Togo’s ruling party wins legislative vote

LOME, Togo (AP) — Togo’s ruling party, led by a man whose family has governed the small West African nation for 46 years, increased its share of the legislature in last week’s elections, the electoral commission announced Sunday.

The provisional results dealt a blow to opposition leaders who had hoped recent signs of discontent would translate into gains at the ballot box. A spokesman for one of the leading opposition parties said the results were unacceptable and vowed to challenge them.

President Faure Gnassingbe’s Union for the Republic party won 62 of 91 seats, up from 50 of the legislature’s 81 seats in 2007, according to totals read out on state television Sunday night by Angele Aguigah, the electoral commission president. The Let’s Save Togo opposition coalition came in second with 19 seats, followed by the Rainbow Coalition with six seats and the Union of Forces for Change with three seats. The final seat went to a small independent party.

The official results immediately drew cries of protest from the opposition, who had earlier faulted the government for mismanaging the poll, citing delays caused by missing ballot papers and other materials when voters lined up Thursday morning. But observers from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the African Union both said the poll had been conducted fairly well, with no irregularities that would undermine the results.

“We cannot accept these results. We already knew that they were more or less prepared,” said Eric Dupuy, press secretary for the opposition National Alliance for Change, a member of the Let’s Save Togo coalition.

“We have always said the elections were made in haste and there is a lot of fraud and irregularities. We will show this in the hours and days ahead,” Dupuy added.

He said the opposition planned to appeal to the Constitutional Court, which announces final results.

Eyadema Gnassingbe came to power in Togo through a coup in 1967 and ruled for 38 years until his death in 2005, when his son Faure Gnassingbe, the current president, took over. Development has lagged under Gnassingbe, and the African Development Bank has voiced particular concern about youth unemployment and underemployment in a country where 60 percent of the population is under 25.

The build-up to last week’s vote had seen increasingly daring protests by the regime’s opponents. Large-scale demonstrations against a change to the electoral law last year forced the government to delay the legislative election, originally scheduled for last October. The following month, female activists announced a weeklong sex strike to call for the president’s resignation.

This year, tension was exacerbated by mysterious fires in January at major markets in Lome and the northern city of Kara. The opposition has accused the government of using the fires as a pretext to arrest its activists, some of whom remain behind bars.

To channel that anger toward an electoral win, the opposition would have had to overcome its own divisions and the ruling party’s superior resources, but analysts said opposition leaders had failed to unite and present a coherent message to voters during the campaign period.

They also questioned whether the ruling party would have actually allowed its majority to shrink. While international observers said the 2007 legislative and 2010 presidential elections were improvements over 2005′s highly flawed and violent poll, opposition leaders still accused the ruling party of vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing.

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