Troops vote first in Togo’s presidential polls


Troops and police voted peacefully Monday in a presidential election in Togo that is seen as a test of the small west African country’s democratic progress after decades of dictatorship.

The defence and security forces were called out to vote three days before the rest of the electorate so that they can keep guard over ballot-casting by civilians on Thursday.

An AFP correspondent saw long queues of voters at a military regimental camp and the gendamerie headquarters — the two largest voting centres in the Togolese capital Lome.

“The early voting will allow Togo’s armed forces to be free on election day,” Togo’s chief of general staff, General Essofa Ayeva, told journalists.

Most of the polling stations in Lome opened on schedule at 7:00 am (0700 GMT) and voting is expected to close at 5:00 pm (1700 GMT).

The number of voting security personnel was not disclosed, but they were casting their ballots at 126 centres in camps and gendarmeries across the country.

Not a single incident was recorded by midday, security officials told AFP.

Presidential elections in Togo in the past have been followed by bloody violence, including in 2005, after the death of former dictator General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled for 38 years.

When Eyadema died, the military installed his son Faure Gnassingbe in power, causing a domestic and international outcry. Gnassingbe then stood down, and went on to win an election with the help of the ruling Togolese People’s Rally.

The violence that followed the disputed vote left up to 800 dead according to various sources, but the United Nations put the toll at between 400 to 500 deaths.

This time around, Gnassingbe made a passionate call for peaceful polls, urging that “we must avoid at all costs to create fresh tension”.

Gnassingbe’s bid for a second term faces challenges from six other candidates in Thursday’s poll. Campaigning, which opened on February 16, is due to end at midnight Tuesday.

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