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Togo's Parliamentary Election to Be Test of Democratic Change


Although parliamentary elections are still six months away, the government and opposition in Togo are already negotiating the conditions necessary for the polls to be free and fair. They say they hope to avoid the kind of violence that followed the 2005 presidential election amid accusations of vote-tampering. Kari Barber has this report from VOA's West Africa bureau.

Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe declared victory in 2005 after a presidential election that was marred by allegations of fraud and outbreaks of violence.

Mr. Gnassingbe was initially installed by the military, following the death of his father, former President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who seized power in a 1967 military coup.

Since the 2005 election, President Faure Gnassingbe has been under international pressure to implement democratic reforms.

Spokesman for the ruling party, Rally of the Togolese People, Richard Attipoe says fairness in the parliamentary elections scheduled for June will require cooperation on all sides.

"The head of state wants this election to be free, to be transparent and equitable for everybody. And, I think that all parties must work, in this sense, to make this election peaceful," he said.

The government signed an accord with opposition parties last year that created a power-sharing framework.

Gilchrist Olympio, is a veteran opposition leader and son of the country's first elected president, Sylvanus Olympio, who was assassinated in 1963. Gilchrist Olympio says the talks produced little for his political party, which came in second in the 2005 presidential elections.

Olympio's party, Union for the Forces of Change, had threatened to boycott the legislative elections. Now he says the party will participate.

For his party to consider the elections legitimate, Olympio says, it is demanding a proper census, electoral cards with pictures, and improved voter security.

"If we could have a bit of security, we think we should be on the road to democratic reform," he said.

Bob LaGamma, of the Washington-based Council for a Community of Democracies, spent several years working for the U.S. government in Togo. He says the need for international support may force the Togolese government to ensure fairness in the coming election.

"The international climate has changed, and there are a lot more democracies, and a lot more is expected of governments these days, in terms of human rights and the respect of the rights of its citizens," he noted. "It is very difficult for a military regime now to decide on behalf of its people what is best for those people."

LaGamma says Togo has a vigorous civil society and active opposition parties, elements necessary for democratic development. The test, LaGamma says, will be to see if the government invites international observers, as well as Togolese civil society, to monitor the June 24 elections.

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