afrol News, 21 February - Bowing into massive international pressure, the parliament of Togo today reversed constitutional amendments made earlier this month to allow for presidential elections within 60 days. Togolese ruler Faure Gnassingbé, the son of the deceased President, thus is not anymore allowed rule until the 2008 end of his father's term. He however stays in power, causing new protests.
The Togolese parliament - totally dominated by the ruling party of ex-Dictator Gnassingbé Eyadéma - today admitted it had committed "mistakes and errors" when hastily amending the constitution after President Eyadéma's death on 5 February. These amendments had legalised the decision by Togo's armed forces to install President Eyadéma's son, Mr Gnassingbé, as the country's new leader.
According to the country's original constitution, the President of the National Assembly should have become acting President until fresh elections were held within 60 days. This original text of the constitution was today re-established by the Togolese parliament. Fresh presidential elections will therefore be held, MPs explained.
Nothing was however done to end Mr Gnassingbé's unconstitutional grip on power. The parliamentary majority foresees that the military-appointed ruler remains in power until a possible new President has been chosen. Mr Gnassingbé has already declared that he will stand candidate at the upcoming polls, raising fears of yet another rigged election in Togo.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) - the two institutions that fronted the pressure against Togo's rulers to return to constitutional legality - have already expressed their demand for Mr Gnassingbé to step down. ECOWAS and the AU have no intentions of stepping down the pressure on the current rulers in Togo.
ECOWAS already this weekend excluded Togo's membership after talks between the group and that country's authorities failed to advance. The regional economic community demands that powers are immediately handed over to parliamentary President Fambare Natchaba Ouattaba - if not, further sanctions will be imposed against Togo. Mr Ouattaba is currently in neighbouring Benin and has not been let return to Lomé, the Togolese capital.
The peace and security council of African Union (AU) met again yesterday on the crisis in Togo and decided to step up its sanctions against the country's "de facto authorities". Togo was suspended from all AU activities. Further, ECOWAS and the AU have agreed on an arms embargo, a diplomatic freeze and a travel ban on the Togolese rulers. ECOWAS Ambassadors have already been withdrawn from Lomé.
The sanctions regime imposed by Togo's fellow African nations has also been applauded by the international community, which has been happy to let Africa take the lead on this issue. France, the former colonial power, is imposing the same sanctions regime, and the European Union (EU) is expected to follow soon. Also the US is imposing sanctions, urging Mr Gnassingbé to step down immediately. Finally, the UN has applauded the firm moves by ECOWAS and the AU.
Today's decision by the Lomé parliament to call for presidential elections in 60 days came after Mr Gnassingbé had promised such poll in a broadcasted speech to the nation on Saturday. "I will assure the continuity of the country," he said, announcing he would stay in power. Thereafter, the 81-member legislature again hastily was gathered in an emergency session to make constitutional changes according to signals from Togo's new leaders.
According to ECOWAS, Mr Gnassingbé was in effect carrying out a coup d'état by still refusing to hand over control to Mr Ouattaba and letting him organise the upcoming presidential elections. The regional block therefore decided on sanctions against Togo as soon as Mr Gnassingbé announced his decision to stay in power until election.
Togo has close to no experience with democracy. Mr Eyadéma in 1968 carried out post-colonial Africa's first military coup. Since that, he staid in power through military force and police repression. With the introduction of so-called "multi-party democracy" in Togo in the 1990s came the experience of voter intimidation and successive rigged polls. President Eyadéma was held responsible for massive and systematic human rights violations until his death in February.
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