Opposition hopes to clip wings of ruling family in Togo vote

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 25, 2013 11:54 AM
Opposition hopes to clip wings of ruling family in Togo vote

By John Zodzi

LOME (Reuters) - Voters in Togo went to the polls on Thursday in a delayed parliamentary election the opposition hopes will hand it a majority needed to push through reforms aimed at limiting the power of one of Africa's oldest political dynasties.

The tiny West African nation has been ruled by one family since 1967 when Gnassingbe Eyadema seized power in a military coup.

His son, President Faure Gnassingbe, was put in power with army backing upon his father's death in 2005 and won a presidential elections organized later that year and in 2010 that the opposition said was marred by fraud.

Togo's 10 opposition parties are aiming to secure a majority of the 91 seats in the single-chamber parliament. They want to introduce a two-term limit that would bar Gnassingbe from running in the next presidential election in 2015.

"We must vote massively for the opposition so it can call the shots in the National Assembly," said Gerard Ekoue, a secondary school teacher waiting to vote in Lome.

Gnassingbe's party, which has been renamed Unir - French for "unite" - won 50 of 81 seats in the last parliamentary poll in 2007 and will seek to increase its majority.

"(Unir) wants to see its powers reinforced by these elections to permit the head of state to pursue the reforms already engaged," Planning Minister Dede Ahouefa Ekoue said in a radio interview on Wednesday.

Long lines formed at polling stations in the capital Lome even before they opened. Voting was due to end at 4 p.m. (1600 GMT / 12:00 p.m. EDT) but voters continued to queue outside a number of polling stations in Lome shortly before the cutoff time.

The slowness of the process had already raised concern early in the day that some would not be able to cast their ballots before the polls closed.

"We've seen enormous enthusiasm, but the voting time for each voter is long," Kabine Komara, the head of the African Union's elections observer mission.

"If you consider that a polling station counts from 500 to 600 voters, people risk not being able to vote before the stations close," he said.

The parliamentary vote was originally due to take place last October. However it was delayed after the opposition called mass protests against last-minute changes to the electoral code it said favored the ruling coalition.

The government agreed to several opposition demands earlier this month, including representation on the elections commission and the presence of opposition observers in polling stations, opening the way for the parties to participate.

The government deployed 6,500 police and gendarmes across the country to ensure polling remained peaceful, and security forces were visible on the streets of Lome on Thursday.

However, previous polls have been marred by violence, and there are fears of unrest if the opposition alleges fraud and rejects the results of the vote, which are expected to be announced in the coming days.

(Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Alison Williams)