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Togo’s Opposition Urges Mass Protests Over Delayed Elections

The opposition accuses President Faure Gnassingbe of hijacking power in a bid to rule indefinitely following parliament's approval of the reform, which would switch the country from a presidential to a parliamentary system

Togo’s opposition has called for a three-day mass protest against the delay of this month’s parliamentary elections – due in two weeks – which the government said would allow for a second reading of a contested constitutional reform.

The opposition accuses President Faure Gnassingbe of hijacking power in a bid to rule indefinitely following parliament’s approval of the reform, which would switch the country from a presidential to a parliamentary system.

Togo’s parliament, dominated by the ruling UNIR party (Union for the Republic), adopted the law on 25 March. Under it, MPs will elect the president for a single six-year term instead of a renewable five-year term.

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While the new law restricts the power of future presidents, it gives greater power to a figure similar to a prime minister, officially called the president of the council of ministers. A renewable position also elected by MPs.

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Saying more consultations are needed over the reform, the presidency suspended the 20 April legislative and regional elections without giving a new date.

“We felt it was important to have wide-ranging consultations … It is not possible to debate the reforms and, at the same time, campaign for upcoming elections,” Gilbert Bawara, the minister for civil service and social dialogue, told RFI.

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“That’s why they’re slightly delayed.”

‘Unacceptable’

Four opposition parties and a civil society group issued a statement calling for protests on 11, 12 and 13 April.

“They are trying to force a law that we do not and will not accept,” said Paul Dodji Apévon, chairman of the opposition Democratic Forces for the Republic.

“Elections have again been postponed, and it was announced on the day before electoral campaigns should have kicked off.”

The parliamentary and regional elections were originally due on December 2023 but postponed to 12 April, then later to 20 April.

Apévon said that given the parliament’s mandate ended last December, MPs were not in a legitimate position to debate on a new constitution for Togo.

Tensions

Amid mounting pressure, Gnassingbé sent the reform bill back to the national assembly for a second reading on 29 March – four days after it was adopted.

The Conference of Togolese Catholic Bishops had issued a statement urging him to delay promulgating the new constitution and to start an inclusive political dialogue.

Meanwhile police broke up several press conferences by opposition parties and civil society groups, including one called Don’t Touch My Constitution.

Some 100 academics, artists, politicians and activists signed an open letter calling on Togolese people to protest and reject what they called a “violation of the constitution”.

Amnesty International’s Fabien Offner told RFI that the government has a tendency to repress people who do not toe the line.

‘Open dialogue’

Minister Bawara said all parties were invited to take part in the dialogue over the constitutional reform.

When RFI asked what would happen if the opposition parties asked the government to drop the reforms, Bawara said that this was “not the objective” of a second reading.

“The reforms have already been adopted by parliament. We are trying to get the critics on board and we are asking them to contribute in improving the work already accomplished by the national assembly,” he said.

Those opposed to the reform say Gnassingbé has found another way to hold on to power and ensure he is re-elected as president of the council of ministers when his mandate expires in 2025.

Gnassingbé has been in office since 2005 after succeeding his father, who seized the presidency in a coup in 1967.

Both father and son have ruled Togo for the past 57 years.

SourceRFI.FR

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