Africa

Q&A: Togo's parliamentary election

Gerry Taama (C) from the New Togolese Engagement party campaigns at a local market ahead of legislative elections in Lome, Togo Image copyright AP
Image caption The opposition has failed to agree on a single electoral list

Citizens of the small, poverty-stricken West African country of Togo are to vote on Thursday in long-delayed parliamentary elections.

The vote is seen as an indication of how the public will vote in presidential elections next year.

Why were the elections delayed?

The vote was postponed from October 2012 after mass protests at the government's last-minute changes to the electoral code, which the opposition said had gerrymandered constituencies for the benefit of the ruling party.

The polls have been rescheduled twice since then, as mediators struggled to bring government and opposition into agreement.

Only in July itself did the government agree to meet some of the opposition's demands.

What concessions has the government made?

It freed 10 opposition figures on bail, having earlier charged them with setting fire to two major food markets in January - although 25 activists remain in custody.

Opposition parties will now have representatives on the National Independent Electoral Commission and at polling stations, and receive state funds for their election campaigns.

Although observers from the United Nations, Europe and the United States say they are satisfied that the elections will go ahead, the opposition Rainbow Coalition and Let's Save Togo Movement remain unhappy with the electoral law.

Does Togo have a good electoral record?

No. Seven years after independence from France in 1960 Gnassingbe Eyadema seized power in a coup and his family has been in charge ever since.

He presided over a one-party state until 1991, when he gave in to international pressure and adopted a democratic constitution.

However, the opposition said nothing really changed - they were constantly oppressed and elections rigged. When the president died in 2005, the army simply ignored the constitution and installed his son, Faure Gnassingbe, as president.

Hundreds died in street protests and after Togo's neighbours imposed sanctions, the new president agreed to elections. He won these two months later amid opposition allegations of rigging.

He went on to win another election in 2010. International observers pronounced this vote largely free and fair, although the opposition disagreed.

The last parliamentary elections were held in 2007. International observers deemed them relatively fair, although the electoral system meant the president's Rally of the Togolese People gained 62% of the seats on just 39% of the vote.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption An opposition rally Lome in May resulted in violent clashes

Which parties are standing?

Unir (Unite) - Union for the Republic is the new name of the Rally of the Togolese People, through which the Gnassingbe family has ruled since 1967.

The re-branded party has attempted to burnish its image abroad and says it wants an "open and transparent election".

The UFC (Union Forces for Change) was once the main opposition party, but in 2010 it joined a national unity government.

It is led by veteran politician Gilchrist Olympio, son of Togo's first President, Sylvanus Olympio, who was assassinated in 1963. He now says that Togo is now "in a democratic system" and that the polls will lead to the sort of constitutional and electoral reform that the main opposition parties seek.

Those opposition parties have formed two blocs to contest the election - the Rainbow Coalition and the Let's Save Togo Movement.

Their failure to present a joint list of candidates for the election means the opposition vote is likely to be split.

How is parliament elected?

Parliament is elected through a proportional representation system for a five-year term. The public votes for a party list, rather than for individual candidates.

Last year's changes to the electoral law have increased the number of MPs from 81 to 91 in the single-chamber National Assembly.

A total of 1,174 candidates are standing, among them 159 women.

The Electoral Commission says some three million people have registered to vote out of a population of about seven million, and results are expected within a matter of days.

Are there any independent observers?

The African Union and European Union will monitor the elections, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is sending 600 observers.

In addition, the authorities are training a 6,500-strong Force for Election Security (Fosel 2013) to ensure the smooth running of the polls, although many opposition activists have expressed concerns about the impartiality of the force.

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