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Togo Politics Enters New Era


Politicians in Togo say the West African country has entered a new era, after peaceful elections in which all political parties took part. The leading opposition party ended a decade-plus boycott of the parliament, and the European Union has pledged an infusion of $60 million for the first time since cutting aid to the country in 1993. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Last month's elections were a watershed moment for Togo, says Robert Dussey, diplomatic council to Togo's president, Faure Gnassingbe. He says, all the actors, even the most radical in the past, have agreed to work together with the president's party, which is creating a new dynamic.

He says while President Gnassingbe was organizing parliamentary elections, he was unable to implement his development programs. Now, Dussey says the president can move forward with his plans for economic development and institutional reforms.

And for the first time since 1994, the country's leading opposition party will be involved in the process. They had boycotted previous legislative elections because of fears of vote rigging and violence.

The party, the Union of Forces for Change, won 27 seats in the October election.

Gilchrist Olympio, leader of the opposition party, says participating this year was a difficult choice.

"You jump from the frying pan into the flames," he said. "That is all, that this is not much of a choice to you."

Speaking from France, he says there are still problems with Togo's election laws.

"For instance, in the south of Togo, you need 100,000 people for one seat in parliament," he said. "Near to the president's home, it is 10,000."

He says this is why his party won fewer seats than the president's party. The president's party won 50 seats, giving them an absolute majority.

But Olympio says his party decided it was better to participate in the process and perhaps effect change from within, than to opt out as they had in the past.

Nicolas Lawson, another opposition leader, says it is a very good sign for Togo that politicians from different sides will be working together.

"If right now we have the peace in this country, and we can debate," he said. "Debate about how to build the country, how to have the programs, to have the projects, how we can finance our projects, how we can put our people to work, that is the main thing for me."

And, also for the first time in more than a decade, Togo will have development aid from the European Union at their disposal.

Melo de Sampaio is the head of EU delegation. He says the elections were the key turning point that convinced the EU to resume aid.

"We believe that President Faure has made very strong efforts and has a very important commitment towards democratization of the country," he said. "So we believe that now channels are open for the continuation of the strengthening our relations and cooperation."

De Sampaio says the EU is finalizing a five-year strategy that will include $175 million-plus of aid.

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