afrol News, 10 March - A coalition of Togo's main opposition parties plans to present a unifying candidate for the 24 April presidential polls this weekend. The quest for a united opposition candidate is however complicated by the expressed will of Gilchrist Olympio to stand candidate. The popular but exiled opposition leader may be barred by Togo's courts.
The ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party already has its declared candidate for the upcoming poll. Faure Gnassingbé - the son of late President Gnassingbé Eyadéma and leader of the 5-25 February coup - is to represent the RPT. Mr Gnassingbé can count on the support from Togo's armed forces, the interim President, the government, state media, the judiciary and other institutions.
To face this unified front of state powers in a country that only has known rigged elections since the 1960s, Togo's opposition wisely has decided to search for a unifying candidate to challenge Mr Gnassingbé. The potential coalition of six opposition parties also faces the problem of little time to prepare for the polls, thus needing a candidate that already is widely known.
The obvious candidate of a unified opposition front would be Gilchrist Olympio, the well-known leader of the opposition Union of Forces for Change (UFC) party. Mr Olympio is the son of Togo's first President, Sylvannus Olympio, who was killed in a 1963 coup, allegedly at the orders of then-Sergeant Eyadéma.
Mr Olympio, now aged 68, claims to have won the 1998 presidential elections, which were suddenly interrupted by President Eyadéma. Following a massacre on opposition members, Mr Eyadéma declared his re-election. Mr Olympio mostly has lived in exile in Paris since an assassination attempt on him in 1992 and the Togolese regime has handed down several death sentences on him.
Due to his exile, Mr Olympio was not allowed to stand candidate in the 2003 presidential elections, which therefore were widely boycotted by the opposition. A constitutional amendment rapidly effectuated by the Eyadéma regime obliged presidential candidates to have live at least 12 months in Togo prior to an election.
This constitutional provision still stands and legally bars Mr Olympio from being the UFC's candidate on 24 April. Being only an interim President, Togo's current leader Abbas Bonfoh is also barred from signing into law any possible change in the constitution that could have allowed Mr Gilchrist to participate in the poll.
Togo's most popular and known opposition leader however still insist to represent the opposition in the upcoming polls. Mr Olympio from his Parisian exile last week declared that he would be the official candidate of the UFC. "If they bar me, then up to 74 percent of the Togolese electorate will be barred too," he added.
The insistence of Mr Olympio is however turning into a pickle for Togo's opposition parties. Presenting Mr Olympio as their joint candidate could end up in a court order declaring his candidacy unconstitutional, thus again losing the possibility to oust the Eyadéma clan from power. The wishes of the UFC, Togo's main opposition party, are however weighty if a united opposition front is to see the light of day.
The opposition coalition is currently meeting in Lomé, the Togolese capital, to reach common ground. The six parties insist they "have decided to present one single candidate at the presidential elections," spokesman Bob Emmanuel Akitani told the press in Lomé today. The parties would announce their joint candidate sometimes during the weekend, Mr Akitani added.
Due to the confusing message by the opposition coalition, speculations of their candidates are high in Lomé. Many bet on Mr Olympio. According to the government, however, unnamed sources in the UFC had indicated that this party not necessarily would provide the joint candidate. Authorities further noted that the opposition's negotiations "still have not succeeded, in spite of one week of intense discussions."
The ruling party candidate, Mr Gnassingbé, meanwhile is quietly enjoying the opposition confusion, playing the role of a statesman. Yesterday, he began a regional tour of Western Africa, meeting with President Mamadou Tandja in Niger and President John Kufuor in Ghana. "When you aim at becoming president, it is completely normal to explain your policies to political leaders of neighbour countries," a member of Mr Gnassingbé's team explained.
Mr Gnassingbé needs to rebuild confidence in the West African region after his 5 February coup sparked sanctions against Togo by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which have now been lifted. ECOWAS has now decided to help Togo organise the upcoming polls and is to send technical advisers and observers.
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