Lome — Togo’s July legislative polls extended the dominance of President Faure Gnassingbé’s party, which has been in power since 1967, despite opposition claims of malpractice. These results could narrow the chances for reforms and presage the results of the 2015 presidential election, analysts say.
The ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) party broadened its parliamentary majority, winning 62 of 91 seats in the 25 July vote, which had been repeatedly postponed. The often divided opposition cried foul, but the constitutional court confirmed the outcome.
The small West African country has seen persistent protests since Gnassingbé’s 2010 re-election – which the opposition also said was flawed – and an increase in political violence. Last year, security forces clamped down on a series of opposition demonstrations.
“The ruling party’s majority win re-emphasizes, one time too many, the overwhelming grip of the Gnassingbé family in Togo,” said Kamissa Camara, a West Africa political analyst.
The Gnassingbé family has “consolidated power through manipulation, corruption schemes, terror, etc… and have managed to control key institutions, which should in practice be totally independent from the state. This has created a totally biased and unfair democratic playing field, which translates into the way the country is run,” Camara told IRN.
Gnassingbé came to power in 2005 following the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who had ruled Togo for 38 years. The army-backed succession sparked deadly unrest and international condemnation that forced him to step down and call elections, which he then won.
An ensuing political tension necessitated dialogue between the opposition and the ruling party, which resulted in a broad political accord that included a consultative platform for political and other reforms as well as a truth commission over the poll violence and other past atrocities. Most of the truth commission’s recommendations have not yet been implemented.
“The ruling party’s victory is merely a sign of continuity. I don’t believe it adds anything to the country’s democracy. There is no progress for Togo’s democracy, and the election disputes only add to the country’s fragility,” said Aimé Tchamie, Amnesty International’s director in Togo.
Opposition coalition Let’s Save Togo (‘Collectif Sauvons le Togo’ – CST), which won 19 seats in last month’s elections, and other groups led protests in 2012 to press for reforms, key among them a presidential term limit as well as electoral and other institutional changes.
Days to the July elections, the opposition and the government reached a deal that included opposition representation in the electoral body, party funding and the release of detained opposition members, but the accord came too late to have a meaningful effect on the opposition’s electoral chances.
“The strategy of going for elections first and later undertak[ing] constitutional and institutional reforms, as called for in the 2006 political agreement, leads one to believe that the government is taking advantage of [the] parliamentary majority to block reforms it doesn’t like,” said Magloire Kuami Kuakuvi, a Togolese academic and human rights specialist.
“Redrawing the voting zones is the minimum of reforms before legislative polls. It is ironic that with just 70,000 votes, UNIR won 62 seats against 25 taken by the CST and Arc-en-ciel [another opposition group] combined,” Kuakuvi explained.
Amnesty International’s Tchamie noted that Lomé, the capital city, is home to a fifth of the country’s six million people and has 10 deputies while certain upcountry constituencies with 50,000 people have three members of parliament.
“With 62 [ruling party] members, it will be difficult to adopt constitutional reforms because the president will want to consolidate power with this majority. That is what is likely,” Michel Goeh-Akué, a lecturer at the University of Lomé, told IRIN.
Togo has no presidential term limits and the president is elected in a single round of voting with no run-off – a provision that makes it possible to be elected even without garnering the majority.
“A series of constitutional and institutional reforms are indeed needed for Togo to join the cohort of democratic states,” Camara said. “The July legislative elections basically shattered all hopes for serious constitutional and institutional reforms to take place within the short-to-medium terms.”
She argued that Gnassingbé remains the strongest candidate for the 2015 presidential race. “It will be quasi-impossible for another candidate to be elected to the presidency. Indeed, Faure has not shown any indication that he would be willing to step down and let the elections take place without him.”
Human rights groups and other observers have also denounced violations of freedoms such as arbitrary arrests, widespread torture, and restrictions on political gatherings and the right to free expression.
“UNIR’s parliamentary majority is not very reassuring for press freedom in Togo. This government was repressive and voted laws that curbed liberties,” said Maxime Domégn, the secretary general of Togo’s independent journalists’ union, citing the raiding and closure of a private radio station on 25 July.
Tchamie said: “We remain concerned about human rights in Togo. Many opposition leaders are still in detention.”
The analysts called for a stronger engagement by the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) in Togo to help implement reforms agreed in 2006.
“We are worried that this [political] tension may persist up to the 2015 elections. International actors should not wait up to 2014 to help start a political dialogue [between the opposition and the ruling party],” said Tchamie.
“For democratic development and progress to occur, actors need to be renewed on a regular basis. The Togolese regime is a dilapidated one. I believe the ECOWAS involvement in the Togolese decade-long political crisis has been so far very timid and could certainly become more forceful,” Camara noted.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]