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Togo Prepares to Vote in Presidential Election

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Togo is preparing to go to the polls in Thursday's presidential election, widely seen as a test of its democratic process.  In the last election in 2005, a highly-contested vote resulted in violence that left hundreds dead and displaced tens of thousands.

This time around, the security forces were called to vote three days early, in order to be a reassuring and present force on polling day.

Current President Faure Gnassingbe knows the drama of 2005 better than most. He was handed power after the death of his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled for nearly 40 years. After a public outcry, he went on to win the 2005 presidential vote. He is campaigning for re-election this year.

As campaigning in the capital Lomé drew to a close, he urged voters to remain calm.

He encouraged voters to keep the peace on polling day and during the vote-counting period.

The 43-year-old is up against six candidates in Thursday's race, including Yawovi Agboyibo of the Action Committee for Renewal party. He told VOA that he hopes 2010 will mark a new, hopeful era for Togolese politics.

Female frontrunner Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson is the first ever woman to run for president in Togo. She has promised to fight for women's rights as well as improved access to health care, electricity and drinking water. She has also spoken widely about her unexpected support among male voters, particularly in rural areas where men traditionally assume leadership roles.

Though some of the candidates have expressed concerns about the transparency of Thursday's vote, analysts say this is a chance for Togo to prove to the world that it is capable of democracy.

United Nations spokesperson Martin Nesirky urged all involved in the elections to ensure that the vote is as free and fair as possible.

"The secretary-general calls on all political leaders and institutions and calls on all leaders and institutions to ensure that the election is credible and peaceful and reflects the will of the people of Togo," Nesirky said.

Togo's only democratic election to date is the parliamentary poll of 2007.

Missions from the European Union and the 15-member Economic Community of West African States are on the ground in Togo to help ensure that Thursday's vote goes smoothly.

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