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Togo opposition unconvinced by reform bill proposal

September 10, 2017 2:20 PM
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Togo opposition leaders on Sunday said they were not hopeful of political change, as parliament prepared to discuss potential constitutional reform after days of huge anti-government protests.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets this week calling for presidential term limits, denouncing President Faure Gnassingbe and his family's half-century in power.

Gnassingbe took over as leader in 2005 after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had come to power in 1967 after a military coup.

Togo's opposition has long called for constitutional reform and in an apparent concession, the government has proposed a new bill to parliament, which has been recalled for Tuesday.

But Eric Dupuy, spokesman for the CAP 2015 opposition grouping, described the bill as a "delaying tactic".

"We don't expect anything from it. We still don't know the details of the bill. At this stage it's difficult to talk about it," he told AFP.

Faure Gnassingbe, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, has won three elections in 2005, 2010 and 2015.

But the opposition has disputed the results and hundreds have been killed in post-poll protests.

The demonstrations this past week were largely peaceful, although police fired teargas at protesters who had mounted barricades in some areas of the capital Lome and more than 80 people were arrested.

Dupuy said Sunday human rights groups had told them all of those detained had been released overnight, but there was no official confirmation from the authorities.

Mobile internet services remained disrupted, according to an AFP correspondent in Lome, who said the atmosphere was calm although there were few people on the streets Sunday morning.

The opposition wants a return to the provision for a maximum of two, five-year presidential terms as well as the introduction of a two-round voting system.

The United Nations has urged the opposition to work with the government to enact reforms.

Togo's civil service minister Gilbert Barawa has said it was unclear whether lawmakers, who are not officially due back until October, will have time to discuss the bill at Tuesday's extraordinary session.

Gilles Yabi, a political analyst specialising in West Africa, said it was difficult to assess whether the government was serious about implementing any reforms, as it had not done so in the past.

Togo contrasts other West African nations which have imposed presidential term limits. Attempts to ignore pressure to do so have seen leaders forced out of office, as in Burkina Faso and the Gambia.

Yabi said it was unlikely in the current climate that Gnassingbe, who has traditionally had the support of the army and security services, would bow to pressure and step down.

But he said the level of opposition support and the size of demonstrations, particularly in cities outside the capital, was unprecedented, as was the emergence of opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam.

"We have witnessed the emergence of a leader who has broken free of the traditional constraints of Togolese opposition, which until recently was unheard of," he said.

"The fact that his political support base is not in Lome has changed something. It's limited the government's margin for manoeuvre, which has always known how to play off north and south."

Atchadam, who heads the Panafrican National Party (PNP), has made a point of leading the protests with veteran opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre, of the National Alliance for Change (ANC).

"By staying united, the opposition may be able to put more pressure on the regime," added Yabi.


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