/ 16 October 2007

Togo elections free and fair, say monitors

Landmark weekend parliamentary elections in Togo were ”free, fair and open”, observers from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) concluded in a report on Tuesday.

”In spite of a few shortfalls, the legislative elections on Sunday were free, fair and open,” stated the 15-nation group, which sent 152 military and civilian monitors to the small country to track Sunday’s poll.

Almost three million voters were eligible to elect 81 members of Parliament from 2 100 candidates in a poll seen as a critical test of President Faure Gnassingbe’s rule.

The election was the first since the 1990s in which all the main opposition parties presented candidates against Gnassingbe’s ruling Rally for the Togolese People (RPT), in a show of faith that this time the polls would not be rigged in advance.

The Nigeria-based economic and military body congratulated Togo’s people on ”discipline [and] maturity” and said political parties should commit themselves now to ”the consolidation of peace and democracy to get Togo back on the road to prosperity”.

Gnassingbe was first made head of state by the army in 2005 on the death of his strongman father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, then he bowed to domestic and foreign pressure and stepped down to get himself elected that same year.

Sunday’s turnout was high, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and more than 3 500 observers in all from Ecowas, the African Union and the European Union.

The commission, however, was on Tuesday still collecting ballots from around Togo before the national count, and CENI sources said provisional results could not be expected for three more days at least.

If the election is generally judged to be free and fair, the European Union will resume aid to the country of six million people, after a 14-year suspension because of the lack of real democracy under Eyadema, who ruled for 38 years and drove his foes into exile. — Sapa-AFP