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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April, 2005, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Doubts hang over Togo election
Although Togo is one of the tiniest of countries, a sliver of land squeezed between Ghana and Benin, the recent presidential election there has generated enormous interest and has been widely regarded as a test for modern African democracy.

Elizabeth Blunt - who was in Togo over the election period - asks whether it passed the test.


It all started in February, with the sudden death of the man who had ruled Togo for 38 years, General Gnassingbe Eyadema.

Youths rioting in Lome
The outside world has seen images of widespread unrest
In a late-night ceremony, his old military colleagues hastily swore in one of his sons, Faure Gnassingbe, as his successor, totally disregarding the provisions of Togo's own constitution.

This was met by such an outcry, both at home and abroad, that they were eventually forced to back down, and play by the constitutional rules.

In terms of the letter of the law, the pressure put on Togo by its African neighbours did what it set out to do.

The constitution was followed, the National Assembly speaker took over as interim president, Faure Gnassingbe retired to private life to fight his campaign, elections were held within 60 days, and Mr Gnassingbe has now been declared the elected President of Togo.

North-south divide

But despite all this, the election has hardly enhanced Africa's reputation as a modern, politically mature continent. The image presented to the outside world has been of dense black smoke hanging over the capital, Lome, and wild young men waving machetes in the streets.

Bob Akitani votes in election
Opposition candidate Bob Akitani is trying to prove he was robbed of victory
One problem sprang from the demand that Togo should follow its rules to the letter.

Holding a sudden election within 60 days meant accepting a constitutional amendment which barred the best-known opposition leader from standing, and using an old and unsatisfactory electoral register. The distribution of voters' cards was rushed and chaotic.

This would have mattered less if all parts of the country had been affected equally, but they were not.

Turnout figures tell the story. Prefectures in the two generally pro-government northern regions had turnout figures over 90%.

In Lome, where the opposition is strongest, only 44% of those on the roll voted.

And this was not apathy; everyone I met was passionately interested in the election, and a lot of voters queued for several hours to cast their vote.

So however well-conducted the voting and however accurate the results announced, opposition supporters were already convinced before election day that they were about to be cheated.

Result 'faked'

But was it a clean election and was the official result the correct one? The voting was mostly good, but then at the end of polling day there were a series of quite extraordinary incidents - mostly in Lome - when truckloads of soldiers and other armed men raided polling stations and seized boxes full of uncounted ballots.

One incident - captured on camera by a French television crew - is now being broadcast round the world.

Faure Gnassingbe
Gnassingbe received over 60% of the vote
The verdict of the official observers from the West African regional organisation Ecowas was that these incidents were regrettable but would not have changed the overall result.

The result, as announced by the electoral commission, gave over 60% of the vote to the old president's son, Faure Gnassingbe.

But the opposition say that even that result was faked, that the figures announced in by electoral commission in Lome do not tally with the results counted at the polling stations.

They are now collecting their own copies of all those local results, and taking them to the Constitutional Court to prove - they say - that they were robbed of victory.

And it is true that some of the Ecowas observers who had been watching the voting and counting, in central region in particular, said privately they were surprised when they heard the official results. They had got the impression that the area had gone in favour of the opposition.

But Mr Gnassingbe was declared the winner there by a substantial margin. And while the voting and counting were closely watched, Ecowas did not observe the whole of the collation process at the election commission in Lome, where the final results were prepared.

So the election has brought not harmony and resolution, but conflict and acrimony to Togo.

A cloud of doubt hangs over the result, as thickly as the smoke from burning barricades hung over the city of Lome.


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