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28.06.2019 Togo

Togo holds its first local elections in over 30 years

By Emile KOUTON
Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe has been in power since 2005.  By Michele Spatari (AFP/File)
JUN 28, 2019 TOGO
Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe has been in power since 2005. By Michele Spatari (AFP/File)

Togo will hold its first local elections in 32 years on Sunday -- during which one family has ruled the West African nation -- with some opposition parties taking part after boycotting last year's parliamentary polls.

Some 8,000 police and security forces will be deployed across the country as voters elect more than 1,500 local councillors for the first time in a generation.

The elections come two months after Togo's parliament approved a constitutional change allowing President Faure Gnassingbe to run two more times and potentially remain in post until 2030.

Gnassingbe took power in 2005 after succeeding his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who seized control of the tiny country of 8 million in a coup in 1967, seven years after independence.

The local election vote was described as a hard-fought step forward by a spokesperson for one of the main opposition parties, the National Alliance for Change (ANC).

"The government has always refused to hold local elections, and today, with the pressure of the international community, it is resolving to organise them," the spokesperson said.

He accused the ruling party Union for the Republic (UNIR) of managing the country in "a family way: all for us, nothing for the people".

"In some parts of the country, we don't even have water to drink," he said.

The previous councillors elected in local elections in Togo governed for 14 years from 1987 -- despite being elected on five-year terms.

Councillors were later replaced with "special delegations", tasked with organising new elections, whose positions were often filled with figures hand-picked by the government.

"Local elections were not the priority both for the leaders in power and the opposition," said political scientist Pascal Edoh Agbove.

"They put more emphasis on the presidential and legislative elections."

Hope and limits

The management of local municipalities, dominated by officials chosen by the ruling party is widely criticised by Togolese people.

"There is no question of giving a blank check to power," said Alice Doudji, a shopkeeper at the Lome market, ahead of Sunday's vote.

She hoped that citizens "would now be involved in the management of their localities".

Main opposition parties boycotted the 2018 parliamentary elections, partly in protest over extended term limits for the presidency.

But most parties have decided to participate in Sunday's local polls.

The election comes almost two years after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in Lome and other cities in anti-government protests in 2017, leading to deadly clashes.

Protests again erupted earlier this year in Togo, a country the size of Croatia sandwiched between Ghana and Benin, but have since waned.

Many political activists have been detained by security forces and the police.

Security forces in Togo were accused in May of carrying out a string of brutal crackdowns against opposition supporters, in a report by the Togolese Human Rights League (LTDH).

A joint statement released by the US, EU, France and Germany on Friday described the forthcoming vote as an "important step in strengthening local democracy".

It urged the government and political parties "to make every effort to collectively promote the holding of a free, peaceful and transparent election".

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