With one month to go before presidential elections in Togo, the country's national electoral board Friday declared the candidacy of popular opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio invalid. But, President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who has been in power since 1967, is expected to win the vote whether or not he faces Mr. Olympio.
Togo's electoral board says Gilchrist Olympio's registration papers lack the necessary tax records and proof of residency in Togo.
Mr. Olympio, who has lived in exile in Europe for years, returned to Togo last Saturday and received a hero's welcome. When contacted by VOA on Friday, he dismissed the electoral board decision as a sham.
Mr. Olympio says it has been 40 years since he lived in Togo so it's obvious he won't be able to come up with the documents the electoral board wants.
Mr. Olympio is taking his case to Togo's constitutional court. He has until May 14 to have his situation reversed. The election campaign officially begins May 15.
Mr. Olympio fled Togo in 1963 after his father, the country's first president, was assassinated in a coup. Mr. Olympio fears he will also be killed if he stays too long in Togo while President Eyadema is in power.
Togo's Interior Minister Akila-Esso Francois Boko denies authorities are making it impossible for Mr. Olympio to run. The interior minister says all candidates must respect the rules.
Mr. Boko also warns that politicians should refrain from inflammatory comments that could threaten Togo's stability.
Five other opposition candidates who filed by Thursday's deadline have been accepted for the June 1 election, including Leopold Gnininvi, a leading opposition politician. Though Mr. Gnininvi is a candidate, he says he would consider dropping out of the race if the opposition can unite behind a single candidate.
Mr. Gnininvi says it is important for the opposition to mount a strong campaign even if, he says, he believes President Gnassingbe Eyadema will win the election through fraud.
Opposition leaders are angry that President Eyadema is even participating. Last year, the long-time leader said he would not run again as the constitution allowed just two elected mandates.
But in December, the constitution was amended to give the president an opportunity to serve five more years. Thursday, Togo's Prime Minister Koffi Sama announced Mr. Eyadema would be the ruling party's candidate.