ABIDJAN — Togo's first legislative elections since 2007 will be held on July 21, according to an announcement on the government’s official Web site.
The deadline for submitting candidates was originally scheduled for Monday, but the Associated Press reports that government spokesman Yacoubou Hamadou said Friday the deadline had been moved back to June 16.
The run-up to the long-awaited vote is taking place alongside mounting concern over the government’s treatment of opposition demonstrators, many of whom have made legislative elections one of their primary political demands.
Togolese League for Human Rights president Raphael Kpande-Adzare says 24 members of the opposition coalition “Let’s Save Togo” remained in detention over fires that broke out in January at major markets in the capital, Lome, and the northern city of Kara.
Kpande-Adzare said the charges against the suspects were politically motivated and based on a flawed investigation.
"It is clear that the investigation was not done properly, and the authorities began to arrest people," he said. "And the people they began to arrest are the same people who are today contesting the legitimacy of the government."
The International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) has also raised concern over the arrests, recently issuing a declaration of “important failings in the legal procedures to investigate this case.”
It also cited complaints about torture and mistreatment of detainees. Last month Kodjo Yakanou, one of the arrested activists, died in prison. Officials said he was suffering from malaria, but opposition activists said officials had refused to provide him with appropriate medical care.
Togo Security Minister Yark Damehane could not be reached Monday to respond to the allegations.
IHFR has called on government officials to release torture victims and others it says have been arbitrarily detained over the market fires.
The opposition is also calling for reforms to the country’s National Elections Commission (CENI). Leader of the opposition National Alliance for Change, Jean-Pierre Fabre, says party's legislative candidates would not submit forms to the commission in its current state.
“We will not give our candidates’ list to the CENI because we do not recognize this CENI," Fabre said. "We do not want to just accompany the party in power to this election.”
Fabre is also calling on the government to enter into dialogue with the opposition to produce conditions that would allow for a fair vote.
“What we want now is dialogue," he said. "We want to sit down with the government and discuss how to make this election good. It is known everywhere in the world that the Togolese government is not a democratic government and that the government does not want to organize [a] good election. We do not have to spend our time to explain the reason why we do not want to give the list of our candidates."
Togo's ruling party, Rally of the Togolese People, has been in power almost continuously since the late 1960s. President Faure Gnassingbe took power after the death of his father, Eyadema Gnassingbe, in 2005.