Togo opposition pushes protests before electionThu, 11 Apr 2024 15:32:36 GMT

Togo’s opposition parties on Thursday urged people to “massively attend” demonstrations planned for Friday and Saturday in the capital, Lome, to protest against a new constitution, despite a ban by the authorities.Political tensions have been on the rise in Togo over the constitutional reform, which critics say is a bid by loyalists to keep President Faure Gnassingbe in power longer.The government delayed a legislative election on April 20 to give more time for discussions on the reform and set a new date of April 29 for the ballot.Minister of Territorial Administration Hodabalo Awate has banned the rallies, saying the route of the protest was illegal and the application for a permit did not meet a deadline. “The right to demonstrate is a constitutional right. These are manoeuvres to intimidate us and stifle the march,” said Paul Dodji Apevon, president of the opposition Democratic Forces for the Republic (FDR). “We have told the population that legally, there is no longer any reason for us to say that we cannot demonstrate.”Opposition leaders have criticised the election delay and also the reforms, which they say are a “constitutional coup” to keep Gnassingbe in office.In power since 2005, the Togolese leader succeeded his father who himself ruled for more than three decades after a military coup in the West African nation.”We must fight, because we are facing a coup perpetrated by someone whose only objective is to remain in power forever. We must never accept that,” said Jean-Pierre Fabre, president of the National Alliance for Change (ANC).Street demonstrations have been banned in Togo since 2022 after an attack on a market in Lome during which a gendarme was killed. Despite criticism of the reforms, opposition leaders say they do not intend to boycott the legislative and regional elections.All opposition parties shunned the 2018 legislative elections, denouncing “irregularities” in the electoral census.”We will go to the elections, it is an opportunity for us to speak to the population. And during the campaign, we will protest against this constitutional revision,” said Aime Gogue of the Alliance of Democracies for Integral Development (ADDI) party. Togo’s parliament in March adopted the law that would switch from a presidential to a parliamentary system, handing 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. But it was not clear whether the president could run for another term.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.In 2019, parliament already revised the constitution to limit presidential terms to two, but it did not apply retrospectively, allowing Gnassingbe to stand for the next two elections.