Accessibility links

Togo Heads Toward Election Despite Fears of Violence


Supporter of opposition candidate Emmanuel Akitani-Bob wears makeshift glasses made out of the party symbol's palm leaf
Togo's interim leader has called for peace and security during Sunday's election, amid persistent fears violence will break out when results are announced. Voters will elect a successor to Gnassingbe Eyadema, Africa's longest ruling leader at the time of his death earlier this year.

Interim leader Abbas Bonfoh called on security forces to prevent any outbreak of violence, and urged Togolese, including church leaders, human rights activists and opposition leaders, to help preserve the peace.

They have all called for the vote's delay, saying conditions are not right for a free and fair election, and they have warned that, if there is fraud, there will be massive street protests.

But the spokesman for the West African regional body, ECOWAS, Amadou Gaye, also says the vote should go ahead, and that the grouping's 150 observers are already on the ground doing their job well.

"These observers, with great neutrality, will be the eye and the ears of ECOWAS, wherever the vote will take place," said Amadou Gaye. "This mission will be handled before, during and after the election, and they will be there when the results will be proclaimed."

The ruling party's candidate is the son of the late Eyadema, 39-year-old Faure Gnassingbe, whose campaign slogan is, Change Within Stability. He briefly took power in February in a bloodless coup, after his four-decade ruling father died. He stepped down under ECOWAS pressure to allow elections.

His main opponent Sunday will be Emmanuel Akitani-Bob, whose slogan is, Real Change.

One of two other opposition candidates, Nicolas Lawson, decided to pull out of the race Saturday, alleging fraud.

Mr. Lawson accuses the ruling party of manufacturing fake voting cards and placing voting booths in isolated areas to ensure victory. He told VOA he is angry that current ECOWAS leader, Niger's President Mamadou Tandja, is allowing the vote to go ahead.

"There are certain things, which are not good, and it's going to create violence in the country, and I did ask President Tandja to make sure that things are correct, and he did agree," said Nicolas Lawson. "So, what is wrong in the system is you have virgin cards, a lot of virgin cards, they are selling the cards. For a country of 5 million people, you have nearly 4.5 million cards. It's not possible."

Authorities and electoral officials have denied any cheating. But one opposition supporter, Harry, predicts what he calls a people-power movement will start in the opposition stronghold of Lome, if his candidate, Mr. Akitani-Bob, is not declared victorious.

"I need a revolution," he said. "I want a different president, because people are suffering, I didn't want this. I want to bring Bob Akitani to be president of Togo, maybe five to 10 years, so people from Lome can say, we have a different president, before we die."

The interior minister, who ensured security during the campaigning, Francois Boko, was abruptly replaced Friday, after he said he feared violence was unavoidable, if the election went ahead.

Meanwhile, an unsigned statement from a group saying it is comprised of young officers from Togo's army has been circulating in Lome. It says, they should disobey orders, if they are asked to shoot on crowds of angry youths.

There have been a few violent protests in the aftermath of Mr. Eyadema's death, but none on the scale opposition activists are calling for, if they believe Sunday's vote is rigged in favor of his son.

XS
SM
MD
LG