afrol News, 15 March - A united front of six Togolese opposition parties has chosen 75-year old Emmanuel Akitani Bob to be their candidate at the 24 April presidential elections. Mr Akitani, who also contested the 2003 poll, was seen as the only opposition politician in Togo who could seriously challenge the ruling party's candidate, Faure Gnassingbé.
- Emmanuel Akitani Bob is the single candidate of Togo's democratic opposition to challenge the dying dictatorship, an opposition statement released today reads. "The man who beat Gnassingbé's father in the 2003 elections today is represented as the hope of an entire people," the statement adds, referring to the opposition's ongoing claim that late President Gnassingbé Eyadéma had rigged the 2003 poll results.
The "hope of the nation" indeed is a well-known opposition politician. Being Vice-President of the United Forces for Change (UFC) - Togo's main opposition party - he has headed day-to-day businesses of this party since its leader, Gilchrist Olympio, headed to exile in Paris after an assassination attempt and several death sentences in 1992.
Mr Akitani also was the UFC candidate in 2003, but only after a Togolese court had ruled Mr Olympio ineligible due to his Parisian exile. Entering the poll in the last minute, several other Togolese opposition parties also supported his candidacy. According to official results, Mr Akitani polled 34.1 percent of the votes, but the UFC claims to have proof that he indeed had won over late President Eyadéma with a comfortable majority.
The 2003 polls were generally marred by violence and intimidation and most observers agree that widespread rigging took place. Prior to the elections, the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party had changed the electoral code in its favour and assured its dominance of the electoral commission, in addition to abuse state media in its campaigning. These factors caused the European Union (EU) to boycott the poll and demand fresh elections.
The opposition fears that the upcoming poll exercise may become equally unfair and rigged, as the power balance in Togo remains the same as in 2003. The short time to organise the elections further has raised fears that the necessary revision of the voters' rolls may not be executed in a fair manner. Again, the EU has indicated it will not send an observer mission to Togo.
This time, however, the opposition coalition reckons it may have a greater chance to succeed. A unifying opposition candidate has been put into the race at an early stage, thus avoiding confusion about the opposition's campaign. Further, the 5 to 25 February coup by Mr Gnassingbé has alerted the Togolese population and neighbour countries, who will not tolerate the same level of intimidation and rigging as in the 2003 elections.
The only thing speaking against Mr Akitani's candidacy is his very old age. 75-year-old Akitani is to challenge the 39-year-young candidate of the ruling party, causing many Togolese voters to question the choice of the opposition. Observers however hold that voters mostly had made their minds up already, whether to vote for the ruling party or the opposition, and that the candidate's name and age was of lesser importance.
The UFC further highlights the long and impressive curriculum of "the winner of the presidential elections of June 2003" (Mr Akitani). The mathematics graduate has worked in the mining and energy sectors and has been active in Togolese politics since the early 1950s, when the country still was a French colony.
Mr Akitani further can expect the assistance of Mr Olympio, who has indicated his desire to go to Togo for the upcoming election campaigns. The government last month indicated Mr Olympio would be allowed to enter the country. The exiled UFC leader is the most known and prominent opposition figure in Togo and his support is believed to gather many votes.
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