See also:
» 31.03.2010 - Togo opposition split over poll defeat
» 26.03.2010 - Togo threatens tough measures against election protests
» 18.03.2010 - Togo court confirms Faure re-election
» 08.03.2010 - Fears of violence after Togo elections
» 05.03.2010 - Gnassingbé, opposition claim lead in Togo poll
» 03.03.2010 - Gnassingbe seeks re-election
» 03.03.2010 - Togo urged to redeem West Africa’s democracy
» 29.05.2009 - Togo institutes the truth and conciliation commission

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Togo elections set for 24 April

afrol News, 3 March - The Togolese electoral commission this evening set the date for the presidential poll at 24 April, following pressure from West African neighbours and the opposition to allow for enough time. The exiled opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio has announced his candidacy and may turn the main challenger to the ruling party's Faure Gnassingbé, if he is let to stand candidate.

According to a statement by the government of Togo, the President of the independent national electoral commission (CENI), Kissem Tchangaï-Walla, this evening announced the date of the upcoming presidential elections at a conference in Lomé. Ms Tchangaï-Walla pointed to the "dispositions of the electoral code," which say that elections have to take place 60 days after the death of the President.

Although Togo's President Gnassingbé Eyadéma had died already on 5 February, the election date was put 60 days after his son, Faure Gnassingbé, stepped down from the presidency, thus ending what is generally termed a military coup in Togo. The countdown started on 26 February, as Abbas Bonfoh took over as Togo's interim President with the mission of organising elections.

The late election date is a result of pressure from the Togolese opposition and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The West African bloc, whose pressure made Mr Gnassingbé step down from power, agreed with the opposition that time was needed to assure that the poll would be free and fair.

Ms Tchangaï-Walla, who only was appointed head of the CENI this week, also agreed that it would be a tough schedule to meet before 24 April. The voters' roll would have to be reviewed from 28 March to 5 April. Then, the electoral campaign was to be organised between 8 and 22 April.

According to the opposition, the schedule might be too tight. Togolese opposition leaders hold that a large part of the voters' roll is rigged, including non-existent persons and lacking a great part of the population that are potential opposition voters. Further, the electoral code still needed to be reformed to assure a fair polling process, something the international community has demanded for years.

Jean-Pierre Fabré, the managing leader of the opposition Union of Forces for Change (UFC), today told Togolese state media that it would be "surrealistic" to hold election already on 24 April. "I don't think it will be possible to organise a transparent and honest poll within that schedule," Mr Fabré said.

Mr Fabré however added that the UFC was ready to participate in the elections. "We are not suicidal," he added. It however still remains unclear who will be the main opposition party's candidate on 24 April. Gilchrist Olympio is the party's real leader, but he has been exiled in Paris for several years.

Due to a controversial provision in Togo's electoral code saying that candidates need to have lived in Togo during the last years, Mr Olympio has earlier been barred from running against late President Eyadéma at earlier crossroads. The exiled leader has been the official UFC candidate at all the latest presidential polls and the government's refusal to let him stand candidate has caused the party to boycott the elections and the failure of political reconciliation in the country.

Mr Olympio today told the UN media 'IRIN' that he would be the official candidate of the UFC also at the 24 April polls. He however admitted that there was a great possibility that the current Togolese government and the Constitutional Court would ban his candidacy. "If they bar me, then... up to 74 percent of the Togolese electorate will be barred too," the exiled opposition leader added.

There is currently much pressure on interim President Bonfoh to assure that the upcoming poll is free and fair so that stability finally may return to Togo. To assure this, Mr Olympio must be allowed to stand candidate. Togo's ruling elite however wants to prevent this and point to constitutional provisions banning an interim President from introducing vital legal reforms, such as the electoral code.

The uncertainty surrounding Mr Olympio's candidacy is also turning into a problem for other Togolese opposition parties. A coalition of six opposition parties is currently considering whether to present a single candidate to challenge the ruling party. Mr Olympio could have been a popular candidate with a chance to win, but the outstanding question of his eligibility makes him a risk factor.

Mr Gnassingbé, on the other hand, has already assured support of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party, of which he recently was elected leader. As the RPT's official candidate, Mr Gnassingbé also counts on the support from Togo's armed forces, the interim President, state media, the judiciary and other institutions. Mr Gnassingbé could easily repeat the tradition of rigged elections of his father.

This is however what ECOWAS and Togo's potential donors want to avoid. ECOWAS has already pledged to provide advisers to help organise free and fair elections. The West African bloc's pressure to achieve a late election date also was aimed at giving the opposition a fairer chance of winning. After all the pressure to have Mr Gnassingbé to step down, it would be a loss of face for ECOWAS leaders if President Eyadéma's son won in an unfair election.

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