Political Crisis Overshadows Parliamentary Election in Togo

(Bloomberg) -- Togo holds parliamentary elections on Thursday in the grip of a yearlong political crisis, with President Faure Gnassingbe’s ruling party set to coast to victory due to an opposition coalition boycott.

The biggest opposition parties in the tiny West African nation are calling for a delay of the ballot until reforms agreed with regional mediators, including a shakeup of the electoral commission, are implemented. At least four people have been killed and dozens injured in clashes this month between opposition supporters and the security forces.

“We will not accept this masquerade and we will use every means to stop it,” opposition spokeswoman Brigitte Kafui Adjamagbo-Johnson said in the capital, Lome. The coalition says a win by Gnassingbe’s party will usher in a constitutional change to set a two-term limit on the presidency starting in 2020 that won’t take into account his previous years in power.

Political Crisis Overshadows Parliamentary Election in Togo

The government says it offered to involve the opposition in the voting process and that its representatives refused to join the electoral commission. About 856 candidates representing Gnassingbe’s Union for the Republic, several smaller opposition parties and independents are vying for the 91 seats. Security Minister Yark Damehane appeared on state TV late Wednesday, telling people not to be afraid and urging them to vote peacefully.

“The electoral commission is staffed entirely by ruling-party representatives and lacks a clear mandate,” Adeline Van Houtte, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in an emailed statement.

Gnassingbe, 52, has ruled the phosphate-exporting nation of about 8 million people since 2005, following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who was president for 38 years. Since then, he’s won three elections.

Political Crisis Overshadows Parliamentary Election in Togo

The opposition is also demanding that the government release demonstrators and activists jailed since the current political crisis started in August 2017 when tens of thousands of people began protests against Gnassingbe’s hold on power that have continued this year with rallies and general strikes.

Various civil-society groups and religious leaders, such as the former Catholic archbishop of Lome, Fanoko Kpodzro, urged the government to halt the elections out of concern they may worsen the violence.

“It is necessary to stop the process to allow for some fine tuning,” said Mohamed Madi Djabakate, an analyst at the Lome-based Center for Democratic Governance and Crisis Prevention. “If not, the government will only spread the crisis over time.”

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