Togo’s legislative elections: What is at stake?Thu, 25 Apr 2024 06:19:46 GMT

Togolese go to the polls on April 29 to elect new lawmakers and the country’s first regional representatives, with political tensions high since the adoption of a divisive new constitution.After his father ruled Togo for nearly four decades before him, President Faure Gnassingbe — already in office himself since 2005 — is accused by critics of trying to extend the family’s grip on power.But loyalists say the constitutional amendment from a presidential to a parliamentary system will bolster democracy in the small West African nation.- What are the elections about? -In Togo, lawmakers are elected for a five-year term. The last legislative elections were in 2018 and Gnassingbe said at the end of 2022 that they would be held the following year. But he has postponed the vote several times.On April 29, the Togolese will elect 113 deputies, compared to 91 in the previous election.The regional elections are the first in Togo, which is divided into five regions. They will make it possible to elect 179 regional councillors who will then be responsible together with municipal councillors for electing senators.The Senate was established by a 2002 constitutional amendment but never put in place.The regional elections will effectively allow the start of the upper house, although the exact number of senators has yet to be fixed.”From now on, bills and proposed laws will first go before senators, who will have to give their opinion, before their adoption by deputies,” Pascal Agbove, an expert on decentralisation, told AFP.- The current political climate? – It has been tense since lawmakers adopted the new constitution on March 25, moving Togo to a parliamentary system.Following an opposition outcry, Gnassingbe requested a re-examination of the new constitution, which was finally approved on April 19.The opposition denounces the reform as an “institutional coup d’etat” and fears it will be a means for Gnassingbe to stay in power. His ruling party says the new system is more democratic and representative.- Is the opposition participating? – After boycotting the last election over “irregularities”, opposition parties this time are rallying supporters to challenge the ruling party, the Union for the Republic (UNIR).Around 4.2 million voters are registered on the electoral lists, or almost half of the country’s 8.8 million inhabitants. This is more than the 3.1 million registered for the 2018 legislative election.Still, in November, the Togolese opposition contested the electoral register validated by the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) and said it feared “electoral fraud”.- Will it bring political change? – Gnassingbe was named by the military as the successor to his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who held power for nearly 38 years after a coup.”We shouldn’t expect much from the legislative elections,” Jean Yaovi Degli, lawyer and former minister for parliament relations, told AFP.”The opposition does not have enough support on the ground to translate possible discontent into the ballot boxes,” he said. “But surprises can also happen… the elections still need to be transparent and democratic.”Under the terms of the new constitution, the Congress of deputies and senators will elect the president, which will become a largely symbolic role.Power will reside in the hands of a new role, the president of the council of ministers, a sort of super-prime minister.The leader of the majority party in the National Assembly will automatically occupy the position. Currently, Gnassingbe is the president of the majority party, UNIR.”In a parliamentary system, there is no limitation of mandates, the one who governs is the representative of the majority party in the Assembly,” former minister Degli said. “If the party which governs no longer has the majority at a given moment, then it does not govern anymore and there will be change.”