DAKAR/LOME - Togo enters its last week of campaigning before the April 25 presidential poll.
Candidates are criss-crossing Togo in search of votes.
President Faure Gnassingbe is running for a controversial third term, while his four opponents call for change. The opposition tried and failed to get parliament to put a two-term limit in the constitution last year.
The Gnassingbe family has ruled Togo since Gnassingbe Eyadema took power in a military coup in 1967. His son stepped into the office in 2005 when his father died.
On the campaign trail, Gnassingbe said continuity offers the best hope for development. He told voters in the town of Notsé there is “no time to waste.”
He said people want universal healthcare and safe drinking water and stressed that it was time to transform agriculture.
“Should we be growing more than just corn? And what we grow should we be exporting it or processing it locally?” he asked.
Agriculture employs most of the population and these are top questions for the next five years.
Gnassingbe’s top challenger in this election is long-time opposition figure, Jean Pierre Fabre.
Fabre told VOA his “core commitment" is the rule of law and institutional reform.
Fabre said, if elected, he would put proposed constitutional reforms to a referendum. He says those reforms include limiting the presidency to two five-year terms effective immediately, strengthening the powers of the prime minister and ensuring equitable distribution of resources.
Disputes over 2010 election results led to violent street protests. Both Gnassingbe and Fabre claimed victory. Official results showed Gnassingbe with 60 percent of votes and Fabre with 33 percent. But Fabre’s camp alleged fraud and voter intimidation.
Six parties are boycotting this election. Three other parties told their supporters to vote for Gnassingbe.
The poll had to be delayed 10 days when the opposition refused to approve the voter register, which it said contained tens of thousands of double registrations. The vote only went ahead after the International Organization of the Francophonie sent mediators and experts, who removed 4,000 duplicate registrations.
Voters say they want a peaceful election.
The other candidates are lawyer Tchassona Traore, ex-military officer turned businessman Gerry Tamaa and university professor Aime Tchaboure Gogue.
Among the pledges being made are three meals a day for all Togolese and sweeping reforms to state administration and regional districting to, among other things, allow for local elections later this year. Decentralization has been a hot-button issue for decades. Togo has never held local elections.