afrol News, 5 March - Will Togo experience its first truly democratic elections without fraud and intimidation? As the first poll results come from Lomé, both President Faure Gnassingbé and the opposition claim victory, but the opposition again claims fraud was widespread.
The Togolese government media have released the first semi-official results from the counting, claiming a great lead for the incumbent President. According to government sources, "with about 61 percent of ballots counted, Faure Gnassingbé won 64 percent of the votes and Jean-Pierre Fabre 31 percent, representing a gap of more than 400,000 votes between the two main competitors in the presidential election."
Government sources further claim that most votes from the opposition Union of Forces for Change party's (UFC) traditional strongholds had already been counted. There was "a very large increase of abstentions in the traditional strongholds of the UFC" and its candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre, government media explain the alleged poor results for the opposition.
President Faure Gnassingbé and his ruling party, on the other hand, were said to have experience "a significant increase" in votes in the same geographical areas. Government sources spoke of "an erosion" of the UFC in this week's presidential elections, which were said to be carried out in calm.
This scenario is highly disputed by the UFC, which claims both widespread fraud and preliminary results pointing towards a victory for Mr Fabre. In several press releases during the last days, the party has denounced "massive fraud attempts in the transmission systems" that would make manipulation and falsification of results easy.
Regarding the semi-official preliminary results published by Togolese government sources, the opposition strongly refuses them. Indeed, local media are not allowed to publish preliminary results before the Independent Election Commission publishes its final polling result, which is expected in eight days.
As the government goes public with its optimistic numbers, also UFC officials talking to foreign media claim having inside information about the counting process. Government leaks were "disinformation", UFC spokesmen said.
The first preliminary results viewed by opposition observers quite oppositely had shown a "significant" lead of UFC leader Fabre. In the party's traditional southern strongholds, up to 90 percent of the ballots had been in favour of Mr Fabre, and the UFC leader on a national scale had obtained around two-thirds of the votes so far, they claimed.
According to several UFC officials speaking to foreign media, Mr Fabre was already assured of his victory. At least 56 percent - but up to 89 percent - of voters had supported the united opposition's candidate, all forecasts had shown on behalf of the already counted ballots. Although votes from the pro-Gnassingbé far north of Togo had not yet been seen by UFC officials, these votes represent just under one third of the electorate and could thus not alter Mr Fabre's victory, the UFC holds.
The 2010 presidential elections were hoped to bring a return of true democracy to Togo. The European Union (EU) - Togo's main trade partner and a constant source of pro-democracy reform pressure - has stationed a major election observer mission in the country. This poll was seen as the first real chance for the Togolese to win an election since the ruling party took power 40 years ago.
But today, the EU observer mission's leader Michael Gahler also expressed concern about the poll counting's transparency. Mr Gahler supported the UFC's critical assessment of how counting results are transmitted from local polling offices to the central electoral commission. As local polling offices were prohibited from publishing their ballot count - against the EU's advice - transparency was not assured.
The electoral commission's final results will be followed with much tension in and outside Togo. If the opposition leader wins the poll, it would mark a breakthrough for democracy in Togo, which could prove difficult to accept for the Togolese armed forces, recruited in President Gnassingbé's northern strongholds.
If the results show a new victory for the incumbent - resulting from a fair or unfair process - the Togolese opposition will in any way find this hard to respect. Decades of violence, oppression and fraudulent elections have made the UFC feel it now deserves to win. And whether President Gnassingbé has won a majority of the vote in a fair manner or not, the opposition will find it impossible to trust that a free and fair election has taken place. Experience has shown that elections in Togo are not fair.
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