Togo: Political tensions continue following parliamentary elections

Published: 10 Jan 2019
By: Djibril Balde


Parliamentary elections held in Togo on 20 December 2018 appear to have been relatively calm, despite serious tensions in the run-up to the polls. A major coalition of opposition parties, the C14, boycotted the polls, citing the need for more systemic political reform, includingof the electoral commission, but the ruling party, the Union for the Republic (UNIR),still lost ground, winning only 59 seats as compared to the 62 it held before. Overall, the dynamics that have driven political tension over the past few years have not changed.

A key issue of contention is the need for peaceful transfer of power and term limits. The current president, Faure Gnassingbé, came to power in 2005 after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for 38 years. The opposition has called for term limits, which were removed from the Togolese constitution in 2002, to be restored. The government expressed willingness to re-introduce term limits, but has insisted that they not be applied retroactively, which would allow Gnassingbé to run again in 2020 and 2025. The opposition has insisted that they should be retroactive, which would force Gnassingbé to step down in 2020. With the critical issue of succession unresolved, political tensions are likely to only rise in the coming year.

The opposition boycott appears to have weakened the position of the C14 coalition, which previously held 25 out of 91 seats in the National Assembly. Although this poor showing by the government may be a sign of discontent, four seats were picked up by their allied Union Forces of Change (UFC), which joined the government in 2010. In addition, many of the seats that had been held by the opposition were claimed by independents and/or small parties that may be even less able than the C14 to constrain the government. A Togolese human rights defender with whom IRRI spoke, considers the opposition boycott a strategic mistake. Relinquishing parliamentary seats only makes it easier for the government to pass legislation, which they have the seats to pass without support from other parties, while lacking the required majority to change the constitution. Togolese aspire to democratic change without violence, but if parliamentary or negotiated means are ineffective, they are more likely to turn to popular mobilisation or violence to press for change.

The run up to the elections were tense. Since the beginning of the electoral campaign on 4 December 2018, security forces killed six persons in Lomé, the capital, and in Sokode, in the north of the country, according to opposition coalition C-14. Amnesty International reported that four people were killed, including a 12-year-old boy, while others, both protesters and security forces, were injured. Amnesty criticised the government decision to deploy armed military personnel to protest sites, which, they argued, exacerbates tensions. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional bloc, urgedthe security forces to maintain professionalism and preserve the security of goods and persons.

Opposition parties have called for the implementation of recommendations made by ECOWAS at its 53rd summit of held in Lome in July 2018. Expressing concern about the political crisis in Togo, its heads of state called for a comprehensive review of the electoral register ahead of the 20 December elections. This did not take place, one of the reasons cited by the opposition for their boycott. The sub-regional organization also called for a number of reforms, including the adoption of the two-round voting system for the presidential elections, the reinstatement of a two-term limit for presidents, the reconstitution of the Constitutional Court and the limitation of the terms of its members. It also recommended the strengthening of the electoral process, including by ensuring that all stakeholders are represented in the national election commission.

Contested elections have previously touched off bloody conflicts in Africa,causing death and displacement. According to the UN human rights office, “between 400 and 500” people were killed between the death of President Gnassingbé Eyadéma on 5 February 2005 and the entry into office of his son Faure Gnassingbé on 5 May. Togolese security forces continue to be accused of human rights abuses, including the use of disproportionate forceagainst protesters. Therefore, the Togolese authorities must respect and protect fundamental freedoms,including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, as enshrined in both international and Togolese law. Furthermore, they must fight impunity by urgently opening an independent investigation into pre-election police violence, identifying the perpetrators andbringing them to justice.

To avoid more further violence, consensus on the rules for democratic competition must be agreed and all sides must adhere to these rules. The international community, and in particular, ECOWAS, has a critical role to play in facilitating the negotiations, which should involve all stakeholders, including the government, opposition parties, civil society and religious leaders, needed to achieve this consensus. In addition, ECOWAS should insist on full implementation of the recommendations in its roadmap for a solution to the crisis, and other international actors should support this.

Regions: Western Africa
Type: IRRI Blog