Thursday, November 15, 2007

Togo's electioneering may pay off

For the first time in a decade, Togo’s main opposition party, Union Forces for Change, attended parliament, Reuters says.

The opposition Union of Forces for Change (UFC) took 27 of the 81 seats in the national assembly in the vote, returning it to parliament for the first time since 1994.

The UFC had boycotted previous parliamentary polls under the authoritarian presidency of Gnassingbe Eyadema, an archetypal African strongman who died in February 2005 after almost four decades in power, saying they were not free or fair.

Eyadema's son, Faure Gnassingbe, who won elections in April 2005, last year set up a unity government headed by opposition politician Yawovi Agboyibo with the aim of reconciling the country and restoring democratic rule.

Faure’s party, the Rally of Togolese People, won 49 seats in elections that were generally described as “free and fair” with turnout around 85 percent.

This marks a break from past, when the ruling party often resorted to ballot-box tampering, intimidation and violence to win. Even as recent as 2005, government troops harassed opposition candidates and supporters during the election called after Eyadema’s death. The violence spread throughout the country and hundreds of people died, international observers claimed.

Togo’s politics hit rock bottom in 1993 when soldiers killed 20 people during the country’s first multi-party election. These killings followed the Bé Lagoon massacre of 1991 where 29 people were massacred by the Togolese army.

The European Union, Togo's largest funder, canceled aid funds shortly after the 1993 killings.

News agencies claim that the Togolese government is suffering from nearly 15 years without significant donor aid flowing into the country. The Faure administration counted on clean elections in an attempt to cast Togo’s political system in different light for the donor community.

However, a VOA report suggests that the EU or other donor countries should remain hesitant moving too quickly to restore Togo’s political legitimacy.

Analyst Kissy Agyeman of the London-based research group Global Insight says the lack of aid has greatly impaired development in Togo, and she expects a full restoration of funding. But, she says, international bodies will need to make sure the election was not just a show by the Togolese government to win back favor of the EU, but instead represents a true break from authoritarian rule of the past.

"I think the international community will be very mindful to ensure that this is not just a one-off thing and it is not just a means for Togo to get the funds. So I think there will be robust follow up," she noted.

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