Togo votes with eye to past violence, fraud worry


Togo votes in a presidential election on Thursday against a backdrop of violence in earlier polls and opposition allegations that incumbent President Faure Gnassingbe may rig the outcome.

Hundreds died in post-election violence in the small West African nation after the 2005 presidential poll and voting this time comes as the region is shaken by a coup in Niger, street riots over delayed Ivory Coast polls and instability in Guinea.

Posters bearing the portraits of the seven Togolese candidates were hung across the seaside capital Lome, but campaigning had ceased two days earlier, bringing an end to the loud rallies commonplace in recent weeks.

“We must all keep in mind that our chosen candidate may or may not be the one chosen by the majority,” the head of Togo’s electoral commission Taffa Taboin said at a press conference late on Wednesday.

“We are committed to an election that is just, fair, transparent and without violence that will allow Togo to take its place among modern democracies,” he added.

West African and European Union observers will monitor the election across Togo, a slither of land between Ghana and Benin which is home to 6.6 million. The 3.3 million registered voters will begin voting at 0700 GMT.

While campaigning in the world’s No. 4 supplier of phosphate, a chemical used in the production of fertilisers, was peaceful, the politics have been marred by opposition accusations that incumbent President Gnassingbe will attempt to rig the vote in his favour.

Gnassingbe, the candidate of the ruling Togolese People’s Rally (RPT), took power in 2005 after the death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled as a dictator for 38 years.

Gnassingbe’s 2005 victory set off protests in which the military killed between 400 and 500 people, according to U.N. estimates, triggering a refugee crisis in Ghana and Benin.

Yet parliamentary elections two years later were peaceful, raising hopes of an end to Togo’s long history of political violence and leading to the restoration of foreign aid.

The vote “will provide the opportunity for Togo to build on the positive reaction from 2007. But there is concern, which is not necessarily misguided, given the strained socio-political context of presidential elections in the past,” Kissy Agyeman-Togobo of IHS Global Insight said in a research note.

Togo is near the bottom of the U.N.’s human development index and went through several years of negative growth last decade.

Its phosphate industry has gone into decline due to a lack of investment, with output slipping to around 900,000 tonnes annually from 1.2 million in 2006.

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