Togo delays April elections over political reformsWed, 03 Apr 2024 20:31:41 GMT

Togo’s government on Wednesday postponed legislative elections due to be held April 20 until an unspecified date, shortly after lawmakers approved highly contested constitutional reforms.The presidency said “consultations” were needed over the changes that triggered opposition claims the reforms passed in March aimed to keep President Faure Gnassingbe in power in the West African nation.In office since 2005 after succeeding his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who seized power in a coup 50 years ago, Gnassingbe has won every election, though the opposition has always claimed results were marred by irregularities.After a week of tensions over the reform, Gnassingbe sent the law back to the National Assembly for a second reading with the opposition claiming it was a power grab to keep him in office.”The National Assembly wished to have some days to engage in broad consultations with all stakeholders,” said a presidency statement on the election delay. “Consequently, the government will conduct a slight rearrangement of the calendar of legislative and regional elections initially scheduled for April 20.” No new date was given.Togo’s parliament, dominated by Gnassingbe’s UNIR party, adopted the law that would switch Togo from a presidential to a parliamentary system, giving the assembly the power to elect the president for a single six-year term.Assembly members would elect the president “without debate”, according to the new constitution.The law also creates the post of “president of the council of ministers” as a type of designated prime minister who will have power over the government. The post is also elected by lawmakers.- Opposition fears -It is unclear if the president’s single term could be renewed later, but the reform sparked opposition fears of indefinite rule by Gnassingbe.Togo’s opposition parties did not immediately react to Wednesday’s decision, which was read out on state television as breaking news.Tensions have mounted over the constitutional reform, with police breaking up an opposition news conference last month, claiming it did not have authorisation.Almost 100 university academics, intellectuals, artists, political figures and civil society actors also signed an appeal calling on people to “mobilise” and reject what they called an abuse of power.The editor of a Togolese newspaper was also arrested as media watchdogs warned of a press clampdown ahead of the elections.Sources in Washington told AFP that US officials have asked Gnassingbe to ensure that the situation is settled “peacefully and democratically”.The Togo Bishops’ Conference called on the president to delay promulgating the new constitution and start “an inclusive political dialogue”.In 2019, members of parliament revised the constitution to limit presidential terms to two, but it did not apply retrospectively, leaving Gnassingbe free to stand for the next two elections.