This is a guest post by Ulrike Rodgers, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI)
Togo’s 3.5 million voters went to the polls on April 25 to elect their president for the third time since the death of long-term autocrat Gnassingbé Eyadéma in 2005. The principal opponents were incumbent Faure Gnassingbé, Eyadéma’s son, and Jean-Pierre Fabre of the National Alliance for Change (ANC). Voting proceeded peacefully on election day after months of political tensions running high. The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) published provisional results on Tuesday evening showing a strong lead for the incumbent. Jean-Pierre Fabre filed an official complaint on Monday, citing irregularities, and has denounced the preliminary election results as a “crime against national sovereignty”.
Faure Gnassingbé’s father, Eyadéma, had governed the country with an iron fist for 38 years from 1967 to 2005. In 2002, he changed Togo’s constitution to eliminate presidential term limits and reduce the minimum age from 45 to 35 years. Faure Gnassingbé was 35 at the time. He was appointed president by the Togolese military after his father’s death in 2005. The younger Gnassingbé’s accession to power was confirmed by the presidential election organized in April of the same year under heavy pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The election, heavily criticized by the international community and Togolese democracy activists, ignited post-electoral violence that cost the lives of hundreds of protesters.
In 2010, Faure Gnassignbé won a second term under Togo’s one-round electoral system with just over 60 percent of the votes against his principal opponent, Jean-Pierre Fabre who gathered about one third of the votes. The other five contesters reached only single digits. Although domestic and international observers noted irregularities in the organization of the polls, they were deemed overall credible and did not result in violence as in 2005. Nearly 3,278,000 voters had registered for that election; turnout was 64.7 percent. For the first time since Togo’s independence in 1960, non-partisan domestic election observers followed the proceedings.
The legislative elections of July 2013 further consolidated Gnassingbé’s power. His party, the Union for the Republic (UNIR), won a majority of 62 seats in the 91-seat National Assembly, up from 50 in 2007. Togo’s voter registry had dipped to 3,044,332 voters for these elections; 66.06 percent participated.
This month, Togo organized its third presidential election since 2005. The race was originally scheduled to take place on April 15. Tensions between supporters of governing and opposition parties had again been mounting for months. The opposition accused the government of manipulating Togo’s voter roll and alleged that one third of the 3.5 million registered voters in 2015 were fictitious. Faced with domestic and international pressure, Togo’s CENI heeded the recommendation of ECOWAS chairman, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, in early March, to postpone the elections by 10 days to allow for an independent audit of the voter roll by the International Organization of la Francophonie (OIF). After three weeks of combing through Togo’s voter lists, the OIF published its report on April 8. It deemed the state of Togo’s voter registry “satisfactory” and gave its go-ahead for the elections to take place once some 300,000 entries were corrected. The OIF’s decision, publicly accepted by all parties, cleared the last obstacle for the contest to move forward.
Five candidates competed for the president’s chair on April 25, including the incumbent for a third term and his long-term rival Jean-Pierre Fabre. Although tensions had been running high in the pre-electoral period, voting proceeded peacefully on election day. ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) deployed international election observers. The domestic 35-member civil society consortium Citizen Synergy for Democratic Elections in Togo (SYCED-Togo) deployed a total of 1200 domestic election observers across the country. After the polls closed, the consortium commended voters and the Togolese authorities for organizing peaceful elections, and highlighted the contributions made by the CENI and Togo’s security forces for the presidential elections (FOSEP2015). United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the peaceful conduct of the election and urged all candidates and their supporters to resolve any disputes that might arise in the election’s aftermath through legal procedures.
The CENI released provisional election results in the evening of April 28. They are subject to validation by Togo’s constitutional court. According to these results, the incumbent took nearly 59 percent of the votes while Jean-Pierre Fabre scored just under 35 per cent. Turnout appears to be significantly lower than in previous elections since 2005. If the court confirms the results, Gnassingbé will lead his family into its fifth decade in power. On Tuesday, following complaints by Jean-Pierre Fabre’s electoral coalition about widespread irregularities, ECOWAS chairman Mahamane traveled to Lomé, accompanied by Côte d’Ivoire’s President Ouattara, to mediate among the political parties while the country awaits the constitutional court’s decision. Thus far, the situation has remained calm, though Jean-Pierre Fabre has released an appeal to the public to mobilize against the election results.
The coming days will show whether the peace that characterized election day will continue after the constitutional court publishes its decision. For the first time in Togo’s history, a consortium of non-partisan domestic election observers undertook a statistically driven monitoring exercise, collecting results from a representative sample of polling stations on election day. The publication of the results collected by SYCED could provide an independent check on the official CENI results. If SYCED’s results confirm the outcome announced by the CENI, it could reinforce citizen confidence in the validity of the official results and contribute to a more peaceful post-electoral environment.