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Togo Opposition Leader Says His Party Will go it Alone in March Election

Gilchrist Olympio says he has no knowledge of a five-party coalition to challenge President Faure Gnassingbe

With Togo’s presidential election a week from this Thursday, a leading opposition figure said he has no knowledge of a five-party coalition to challenge incumbent President Faure Gnassingbe.

Gilchrist Olympio of the Union of Forces for Change, Togo’s largest opposition party said his party, represented by party secretary Jean Pierre Fabre, will go it alone in the March fourth election.

“For the last 15 days, I’ve been having discussions with several parties, and I have met their leaders to review their positions to find out who shares the same philosophy as we do. But I don’t think we came to any concrete operational arrangement,” he said.

Olympio agreed the opposition would have been able to present a more formidable challenge to President Faure Gnassingbe had the parties formed a united force.

“Some of the parties, of course, don’t have much of a following. But there are at least two or three that need to come together if they want to stand a chance against a party that has been in power for over 45 years. But unfortunately this has not been achieved,” Olympio said.

Togo opposition supporters
Togo opposition supporters

Olympio was disqualified from competing in the election after he failed to appear in Lome for the medical examination required by the country’s constitution.

He said his Union of Forces for Change party decided to contest the poll even though the system had been imperfect.

“We had problems with the program and the laws that govern the elections. We didn’t agree with too many things. For instance, we wanted to have elections on two tiers. In other words, there would be a runoff after the first vote. This was rejected by the government. So during this period there was a time we felt seriously of withdrawing from the process. But finally we decided it was best to remain in the process to go to the election imperfect as it may look,” he said.

Olympio said his party hopes to do well in next week’s election as it has always done in past elections despite what he described as government high handedness.

“We think we shall do a little bit better than in the past and with a little bit of luck and support, especially from Western powers we have some chance of winning an effective change. But I wouldn’t put it beyond that,” Olympio said.

He said past elections in Togo have never been free and fair. But Olympio said the opposition is hopeful this time around.

“It’s never been free and fair in our history, and we don’t know what’s going to happen this time. With the laws that we have, with the changes in the constitution that President Eyadema did just before dying some five years ago, it’s going to be very difficult to remove them from power with legislation and through normal voting process. But we are hopeful,” Olympio said.

Olympio said he agreed with President Faure Gnassingbe’s appeal for a peaceful election without violence. But he said the Togolese security forces had always been violent in past elections.

“Everybody wishes to have elections without violence, but whether this could be achieved is going to be difficult with the same army, the same police force and the same security forces that killed over 1,000 people five years ago,” Olympio said.