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Campaigning Ends Ahead of Togo Election


Campaigning has ended for Togo's legislative elections, the first serious challenge to the ruling party's more than four-decade grip on power. Party leaders say Sunday's election can change Togo's reputation as an autocratic state, but only if voters believe in it. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Patrick Lawson, vice president of the main opposition party, Union of Forces for Change (UFC), says he is worried that election violence in the past could have a negative impact on voter turnout this Sunday.

Ever since Togo introduced multiparty elections in the early 1990s, voting has been marred by violence and accusations of vote-rigging.

Most recently, the 2005 presidential election ended in security crackdowns that sent tens of thousands fleeing.

Lawson says he hopes UFC supporters will come out and vote on Sunday. He adds he still has concerns about election fraud.

UFC has fought for weeks to have poll workers sign each ballot that is cast in order to prevent cheating.

Leaders from the ruling party, Rally for the Togolese People, say signatures are unnecessary, confusing, and may, in themselves, lead to fraud.

Ruling party spokesman, Claude Bammante, dismisses the opposition's concerns.

He says people are traumatized by past violence and are searching for excuses to claim fraud. He says the ruling party is as committed as the opposition to free and fair elections.

The National Electoral Commission has ruled that each ballot must be stamped.

Opposition leader Lawson says in order to proceed with the already delayed election, UFC accepted the compromise.

Lawson says if UFC insisted on ballot signatures so close to election day, the party risked disrupting the vote. He says the party is now focused on ensuring the ballots are stamped.

Togo's main donor, the European Union, cut off assistance in 1993 partly because of the country's poor human rights record.

Aid was partially restored three years ago. But it is has not been able to solve Togo's energy problems, poor health and education services, or the failing production of phosphate and cotton.

Citizens make on average less than $400 a year. More than half live in poverty.

The European Union and other major donors have said they will consider investing more only if the country conducts free and fair elections.

More than three thousand election monitors have been deployed in Togo's most closely watched multi-party election since the first one was held in 1993.

More than 2,000 candidates from 32 parties are competing for 81 legislative positions.

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