- After massive international pressure, Faure Gnassingbé has stepped down from the presidency in Togo, three weeks after taking power when his father, who was then President, died. African neighbour countries have already lifted sanctions they had imposed on Togo as their demands have now been totally met.
Mr Gnassingbé made the announcement in a state media broadcast today. "In order to guarantee the transparency and fairness of [the forthcoming] election and to give the same chance to all the different candidates, I have decided to the resign from the post of President of the National Assembly, through which I provisionally exercised the role of President of the Republic," Mr Gnassingbé said. Abbas Bonfoh, the Vice-President of the Togolese parliament, was to take over as acting Head of State.
Togo's political crisis began when its President, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, died on 5 February, leaving a power vacuum he had filled since taking power in a coup in 1968. In a break with the constitutional succession process, his son, a cabinet minister, was appointed Head of State by Togo's armed forces.
The constitution, which required that the President of the National Assembly become acting President until fresh elections were held within 60 days, was hastily amended, sparking violence in the capital, Lomé, and strong international protest against "the coup d'état in Togo".
When regional talks aimed at ending Togo's constitutional crisis hit an impasse, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Togo's membership last weekend. ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) had also imposed "smart sanctions" against the unconstitutional Togolese leaders. They demanded Mr Gnassingbé to step down and the organisation of free elections within 60 days.
The organisation of these elections will now be the main target of Abbas Bonfoh, who is now taking over as Togo's acting Head of State. Although the restored Togolese constitution foresees new elections within 60 days after the death of the President, it still remains unclear when the polls will be held. Correctly, they should be held 60 days after President Eyadéma's death, which means before 6 April, or 60 days after Mr Bonfoh's power takeover, which means around 27 April.
The Togolese opposition however claims that more time is necessary to guarantee free and fair elections, given the dictatorial structures left behind by late President Eyadéma. Electoral reforms, an impartial electoral commission and an updated voters' roll would be necessary. Further, the opposition needs to secure the return of its popular exiled leader Gilchrist Olympio, who was barred from stand candidate at past elections, and proper access to the media.
The opposition is also sceptical to Mr Gnassingbé's announcement of his candidacy to the upcoming presidential polls. Mr Gnassingbé, who yesterday was appointed leader of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party, also enjoys the backing of the country's armed forces. It remained to be seen whether Mr Gnassingbé would follow in the spirit of his father and abuse state power to intimidate the media and opposition and rig the polls.
While there are many questions remaining unanswered regarding the upcoming polls, the international community today nevertheless welcomed Mr Gnassingbé's decision to step down from power. ECOWAS immediately lifted all sanctions it had imposed on Togo and restored the country's membership.
Also the UN welcomed the move this evening. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today pledged support for Togo's political transition, now that Mr Gnassingbé had announced the return to constitutional order. The UN leader, coming from Togo's neighbour country Ghana, earlier had strongly condemned Mr Gnassingbé's power seizure.
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