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European Election Observers Assume Posts in Togo

In preparation for Togo's legislative election this Sunday, dozens of European election observers are traveling to different voting regions. Phuong Tran spoke with the head of the EU observation team and has this report from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

The head of the European election observation group, Fiona Hall, says past election violence makes it even more important to get the monitors in place to reassure voters this election will be different.

"I think the challenge is when there has been a history of violence in elections, the population is very worried about polling day," said Hall. "The best way of reassuring the population is simply for our observers to do their job, making sure that there is a full transparency and that the election process takes place in a way which everyone who is involved can have confidence in."

She says the European monitors are being briefed on the situation in each of the voting regions.

Hall says her team will fill questionnaires about voting conditions on Sunday, and follow the voting process through ballot collection.

The 2005 election that installed current President Faure Gnassingbe ended in violent security crackdowns on supporters of the opposition who protested election results. Hundreds were reported to have died.

Even though observers from the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, declared the election fair, human rights organizations reported government forces clubbing protesters, raiding opposition strongholds, and stealing ballots. Tens of thousands fled to neighboring countries, some of whom are only now returning under U.N. supervision.

The European Union has said a free and fair election must take place before it fully restores economic aid, cut off 14 years ago because of Togo's human rights violations and autocratic rule.

Chris Fomunyoh with the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs says it remains to be seen whether the cut in aid was effective.

"Sanctions can help, but it has to be a cumulative effect of outside pressure and inside demands," said Fomunyoh. "That means the people of the country themselves must advocate to be governed differently, to advocate for an opportunity to choose their leaders through the electoral process."

As election monitors take their positions, party leaders wait for the National Electoral Commission to decide whether voting station workers are required to verify each ballot with a signature.

Opposition party Union of Forces for Change insists on ballot verification, while the ruling party that has been in power for more than four decades, Rally for the Togolese People, is opposed because it says the requirement can lead to fraud.

More than 2,000 candidates are competing for 81 legislative positions in what will be the country's most tightly-monitored election since multi-party elections were organized in the early 1990s.

There were about 150 observers for the 2005 presidential election. Monitors from major watchdog organizations had been barred from previous elections.

This year, more than 3,000 election monitors are expected, in addition to ECOWAS military observers who are monitoring the 6,000-member Togolese election security force.