- Togo's Constitutional Court has approved of four candidates to the 24 April presidential election, including the ruling party's Faure Gnassingbé and the opposition's joint candidate Emmanuel Akitani Bob. Meanwhile, opposition protests against alleged election fraud preparations are getting increasingly violent.
According to the Togolese government, the country's highest court has approved of the four candidates that had presented them to the upcoming poll. In addition to Mr Gnassingbé and Mr Akitani - the main rivals in the race - the court approved of businessman Nicolas Lawson of a new opposition party and Harry Olympio, leader of a so-called "moderate opposition party", which in Togo means a party supporting the ruling elite.
Favourite to the poll is Mr Gnassingbé, son of late President Gnassingbé Eyadéma and the official candidate of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT). The RPT candidate can count on the support of the government, state-controlled media and Togo's armed forces. If the 24 April election follows traditional patterns, the poll exercise will be heavily rigged in favour of Mr Gnassingbé.
Also the Togolese government recognises that Mr Akitani of the united opposition is the ruling party's main challenger. In local terminology, Mr Akitani represents "the radical opposition", meaning the parties demanding true democratic reforms. The 75-year old was chosen to represent a united front of six Togolese opposition parties as it became clear that the opposition's most popular leader, Gilchrist Olympio, would not be allowed to stand candidate by the Constitutional Court due to his Parisian exile.
The two other candidates are expected to play a minor role in the emerging electoral campaigns. Businessman Lawson represents a party that is fairly unknown. He may join Mr Olympio from the "moderate opposition" in throwing in his support to the ruling party's candidate at a later stage in the electoral campaign, as is tradition in Togo.
Togolese Interior Minister François Akila Esso Boko yesterday announced that so far, a total of 2.16 million citizens had been cleared to vote in the upcoming poll and given voter's ID cards. The national election commission is still revising the voters' roll in a process "proceeding with total transparency and within the legal framework," according to a statement by Minister Esso Boko.
This is however strongly contested by the opposition alliance, which claims that the process of election rigging had already started with a fraudulent revision of the voters' roll. In many opposition strongholds, people had not received voter's ID cards, they hold. Opposition representatives have demanded "an integral review" of the lists with full participation of opposition observers.
To achieve this, the opposition is calling for a postponement of the election. This would allow more voters to register, more cards to be issued and the process to be more transparent. Opposition leaders are increasingly threatening to withdraw from the poll if their demands are not met.
These alleged manipulations of the voters' roll are also causing a growing number of protest marches in Lomé, the capital, and other Togolese cities. Demonstrators call for a postponement of the elections and accuse the government of rigging the poll. Increasingly, protesters also blame the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the alleged election fraud, as ECOWAS had urged for the poll to be held no later than 24 April.
During the last weeks, protests have turned more frequent and radical. During one march, opposition militants attacked a team from the state-controlled TVT broadcaster, accusing TVT of spreading ruling party propaganda. The opposition later apologised for the incident. Yesterday, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Lomé and other cities. Several people were injured as demonstrators clashed with the police.
The growing number of incidents and the opposition's threat of withdrawing from the poll have led the Lomé government to take a more reconciling approach this week. Interior Minister Esso Boko yesterday made it clear that the work with the voter's roll was not yet finalised, as originally planned.
His Ministry now was to add more potential voters to the electoral lists to make sure that those so far left out would obtain a voter's ID card. Mr Esso Boko held that the current list already included around 90 percent of Togo's potential voters. This number was to increase before 24 April, the Minister assured.
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