Togo ruling party wins legislative vote in boost for GnassingbeSun, 05 May 2024 09:59:46 GMT

President Faure Gnassingbe Togo’s ruling party won a crushing majority in legislative elections, authorities said, allowing the longtime leader to extend his rule under a contested constitutional reform.Gnassingbe’s Union for the Republic party (UNIR) won 108 of 113 seats in the vote held last Monday, according to provisional results announced by the national electoral commission late Saturday.Turnout was 61 percent, according to commission figures, but the triumph is total for Gnassingbe, already in power since 2005 after his father Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled the small West African state for nearly four decades.Under the new constitution approved by lawmakers in April, Gnassingbe will be able to take a new post as president of the council of ministers, a role similar to prime minister, that is automatically assumed by the leader of the majority party in parliament.Opposition parties denounced the constitutional reform as an “institutional coup”, creating a role tailor-made for Gnassingbe to evade presidential term limits and extend his family’s dynasty.UNIR loyalists say the change to a parliamentary system made Togo’s democracy more representative.Under the previous constitution, Gnassingbe would have been able to run for the presidency just one more time in 2025.Gnassingbe, 57, has already won four elections, though all were denounced as flawed by the opposition. The main opposition boycotted the last parliamentary election in 2018, citing irregularities. This time they had rallied supporters to challenge UNIR dominance.According to the new constitution, Togo’s president becomes a mostly ceremonial role elected by parliament, and not the people, for a four-year term.As president of the council of ministers, Gnassingbe will be able to stay in power without term limits as long as the UNIR is the majority party in the national assembly, according to the opposition.Regional election observers said they were satisfied with the April 29 election, which also saw a vote for regional representatives who will help select the membership of the senate, a newly created second chamber.Opposition parties denounced some irregularities in the legislative election and others had challenged the constitutional reform as illegal in the court of the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS.Nathaniel Olympio, head of the Togolese Party, slammed international bodies that “validated fraudulent elections”. He highlighted that fewer than 70 observers were in the country.Opposition attempts to protest against the reform were blocked by authorities. Political rallies have been banned in Togo since a 2022 attack on a market in Lome during which a military police officer was killed.Gnassingbe, who rarely speaks publically, has sought to carve out a role as a regional mediator, serving as a go-between for military coup leaders in Niger and ECOWAS, and between Ivory Coast and Mali when tensions flared after Ivorian troops were detained in Mali.France is keen to keep good relations with Togo after its military was forced out of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger following the military seized power on those countries.  At the same, Gnassingbe has sought to widen his alliances, joining the Commonwealth in 2022 and nurturing good relations with Washington.