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Togo: Can the opposition win its bet for a change?

Article from AFRIC Editorial
The Togolese opposition will face the outgoing president Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé Eyadéma, a candidate for his own succession for a fourth term at the head of Togo, which he has led since 2005 in divided camps. Yet two years ago, thanks to a coalition of 14 political parties known as the C 14, it had by its popular marches shaken the regime by demanding the return with immediate application, to the 2012 constitution, which limits the number of presidential mandates to two five-year terms, a measure which was considered as the guarantee of a true alternation at the helm of the country. Their determination to win their case and the support of Togolese civil societies united under the banner of the "Front citoyen Togo debout" had forced President Faure Gnassingbé to submit to the mediation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which had demanded a road map for a way out of the crisis.

With the storm behind him, President Gnassingbé Eyadema is confidently approaching the February 22 elections with a more fragmented opposition than ever before, which nevertheless presents two major candidates, namely Agbéyomé Kodjo, the candidate of the Democratic Forces, a coalition led by Monsignor Kpodzro, Archbishop of Lomé, and Jean-Pierre Fabre, an emblematic figure of the opposition and President of the National Alliance for Change.

Shattered alliances

A total of seven candidates are competing in the presidential race of February 22, 2020. These include the outgoing head of state Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, president of the Union for the Republic (UNIR), Jean-Pierre Fabre, president of the National Alliance for Change (ANC), Tchassona Traore Mohamed of the Citizens’ Movement for Democracy and Development (MCD), Aimé Tchabouré Gogué of the Alliance of Democrats for Integral Development (ADDI), Kodjo Messan Agbeyome Gabriel of the Patriotic Movement for Democracy and Development (MPDD), Kuessan Georges-William Assiongbon of the People’s Health Party, and Wolou Komi of the Socialist Party for Renewal (PSR).

Despite the peculiarity of this election, which, unlike the others will be a two-round vote, the opposition has not decided to join forces to give itself the chance to bring down Faure Gnassingbé. According to many observers, the multiplicity of candidates in this ballot is rather favourable to the outgoing president. In spite of this, however, there are two strong personalities in the ranks of this opposition. The three-time presidential candidate, Jean Pierre Fabre, who calls himself the true candidate of the opposition and Agbeyomé Kodjo, the main representative of a coalition of parties and civil society groups, who knows the power game well for having held senior state positions and served under the Eyadema’s regime.

The coalition of opposition parties (C14) will participate in the presidential elections on February 20, after boycotting the legislative and municipal elections in June 2018. While it brought together fourteen political formations from the opposition since its creation in August 2017, it has now been reduced to only seven parties. Born in favour of mass movements demanding the departure of President Faure Gnassingbé, it only existed for 18 months. At the origin of its break-up are internal disputes due to a list of malfunctions, leading to lack of trust and transparency. According to Eric Dupuy, the ANC spokesman and adviser to Jean-Pierre Fabre, “There were too many political compromises at the expense of mobilization”.

One of the departures that weakened the C14 was that of Jean Pierre Fabre’s ANC, the main opposition party that had 16 seats in the former National Assembly, which expired in 2018. Four days before the ANC’s decision to break ties with the C14, Nathaniel Olympio’s Parti des Togolais also announced its decision to withdraw from the Coalition, arguing that “there was a depth of differences in the construction of the coalition’s new orientations”.

In all, the coalition has experienced seven defections, including that of the Action Committee for Renewal (CAR) of Yawovi Agboyibo, former Prime Minister and former President of the National Assembly, and also the Pan-African National Party (PNP) of Tikpi Atchadam, the mastermind of the popular uprising, who has been in exile for more than a year. Among the reasons for the break-up are;

  • A corruption case involving 30 million CFA francs (45,734.85 euros), which was a gift from a regional head of state.
  • Lack of leadership in the coalition and a disagreement over who should be the lead candidate.

Between September 2017 and February 2018, the C14 had managed to draw massive crowds behind it in the capital Lomé and in several major cities in Togo to demand the departure of President Faure Gnassingbé, who had been at the head of the country since the death of his father, who had held the reins for 38 years.  The opposition’s boycott of the 2002 legislative elections gave the government the opportunity to amend the constitution without any interference. In 2018 it did not learn the lesson and once again offered the regime’s deputies the opportunity to meddle with the fundamental law by reducing the number of mandates to zero. These missteps, in addition to the defections within the C 14, are a major setback for the Gnassingbé clan.

A risky election for the opposition

This is not the first time that the Togolese opposition has approached the presidential elections in separate camps; a division could play in favour of the candidate of the ruling party. This is because voters wishing to vote for a change instead of continuity will be divided among six other candidates; a situation that could jeopardize the second round, which can only take place if none of the candidates in opposition succeeds in obtaining 51% of the votes in the first round.

The climate of tension in which the opposition is approaching this election is also due to the demands it has made for the smooth running of the ballot and the reliability of the results, including the recomposition of the Constitutional Court, which is too close to the government, the establishment of a new and more credible electoral register and the restructuring of the National Independent Electoral Commission (Céni), the body responsible for supervising the ballot; demands which were rejected by the authorities.

Faced with this discontented and divided opposition, President Faure Gnassingbé will try to run for a fourth term. In the last two elections of 2010 and 2015, he was always trailed in the results by Jean-Pierre Fabre of the ANC (33.93 and 35.19% of the vote) who this time is contesting the leadership within the opposition with former Prime Minister Agbéyomè Kodjo. In addition to the introduction of the second round, this presidential election will also witness the participation of the Togolese diaspora for the first time.

Adopted 27 years ago by a popular referendum at the time of Eyadema Sr. The 1992 constitution underwent grooming at the National Assembly in 2002. The new fundamental law no longer limits the presidential term of office, the reason why the Togolese opposition, which has been campaigning since then for a change at the head of this state which has been under the leadership of the Eyadema family for 53 years.

A constitutional reform in favour of Gnassingbé

The Togolese opposition fought for months to obtain a return with immediate effect to the 2012 constitution, which limited to two the number of presidential terms set at five years. If taken into account, this grievance excluded the current president, who was elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2010 and 2015, from the presidential race on February 2020.

The vote of the Togolese deputies on 9 May 2019 resulted in the return to the fundamental law of the measures prescribed in the 2012 constitution as desired by the opposition, a five-year term renewable once and a presidential election with two rounds. The only drawback, however, remains the non-retroactivity of the law decided by the legislators, which brings the countdown to zero and does not exclude in any case a new candidacy of the current president. A successful poker game for Faure Gnassingbé, whose party Unir (Union for the Republic) holds two-thirds of the seats in parliament following the last legislative elections on December 20, 2018, which were marked by a boycott by the opposition. The people’s representatives also took advantage of this reform to strengthen the status of the former presidents of the Republic by specifying in Article 75 that Former presidents of the Republic are, by right, members of the Senate for life. They may not be prosecuted, arrested, detained or tried for acts committed during their presidential terms.”

Inaugurated as President of Togo on 7 February 2005 by the army following the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé Eyadéma has been at the head of Togo for 15 years.

The provisions of the new Togolese constitution give him the opportunity to remain in office for another ten years. The opposition, however, can be comforted by the introduction in the new text regarding a presidential election with a single-member majority in two rounds (as opposed to past elections). But it would still have to give it it’s all to be able to overthrow the current president, who is 53 years old, who enjoys the unfailing support of his supporters who have expressed their desire to see him wear the party colours in the presidential election once again, and who remain convinced that he is the man who has enabled Togo to make considerable progress since 2015 in terms of economic development, as proven by the latest ranking of the Doing Business 2020 Report published from Washington in the United States.

With a favourable profile in the field of business, the country led by Faure Gnassingbé according to this World Bank study on the ease of doing business in the world, is ranked 3rd most reformist counties in the world ahead of giants such as China and India. Among the indicators that have favoured this breakthrough are the reduction of building permit fees, business creation, access to energy and transfer of ownership.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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