A member of Togo’s main opposition National Alliance for Change, or ANC, party said the opposition wants to stop the government’s preparation for March parliamentary elections amid a dispute over electoral reform.
Thursday, security forces fired tear gas at tire-burning youths after the government banned an opposition rally. The government said the march was illegal.
Thursday was to have been the first of three days of protests led by “Let’s Save Togo,” a coalition of opposition and civil society groups demanding electoral reforms and the removal of President Faure Gnassingbe.
ANC member Amorin Alexander said there can be no election without constitutional and institutional reforms.
“The electoral agenda has to be stopped now. We have a lot of problems," he said. "We have the problem of the dimension of the constitution. We are living in a system of quasi-apartheid. In Lome, for instance, you need over 200 people to have one MP (Member of Parliament). But, when you go outside Lome, you need 45,000 votes to have one MP. We don’t want this to continue,"
Alexander said the opposition and civil society want a transparent electoral process.
“We want equity; one man, one vote. Then, we want transparency. We don’t want these people to rig the election. These [people have been] in power for almost 50 years, same people,” Alexander said.
The legislative elections were supposed to have been held last October, but they were postponed because of disagreement over opposition demands for electoral reform.
Gnassingbe has announced that the local and parliamentary elections would be held by the end of March. Alexander said it would be impossible to have elections in Togo without reform.
“We need to sit and have talks. We have to change the whole system of election in Togo. We have to change the institution in charge of organizing elections,” Alexander said.
He said the government’s claim that it is trying to reform the country’s electoral process is untrue.
“The president is not saying the truth. I don’t want to be impolite by saying that he is lying. We signed the general political agreement in 2006. With this agreement, we are all saying that this country needs discussion to reform the constitution. They refused to have this kind of election. So, nothing has changed. The president is not doing anything to improve the political system,” he said.
Gnassingbe took power in 2005 following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for 38 years.
Alexander said Togo is a republic and not a kingdom to be ruled by one family.
“The father was in power for 38 years. When the father died, he [Gnassingbe] has been in power by the military. And so, he’s there since 2005, almost eight years. Togo is not a kingdom. Togo is a republic,” Alexander said.
The government said it does not want a rally to be held in the commercial district of Lome because it would disrupt commerce.
Alexander said the government has no legal right to tell protesters where to hold rallies. In addition, he said, the rally would have a strong impact if it is held in the heart of Lome.
“What is the meaning of a demonstration if the demonstration cannot have impact on the society? If you go to [the] seaside to make your demonstration, you are not doing anything. But, by doing the manifestation in the center of the city, everybody will know that something is going wrong in this country,” Alexander said.