Voting began Sunday in Togo’s first local elections in 32 years – during which a single family has ruled the West African nation – with most opposition parties taking part after boycotting 2018 parliamentary polls.
The first polling booths opened shortly after 7:00 am, with queues forming outside by 6:30 am at a high school in the capital Lome. “I came to fulfil my civic duty,” said voter Kayi Sassou, in her seventies. “I want just two things for this country: peace and change.”
Atutu Lawson also looked forward to “lots of changes in the neighbourhood,” noting it had no market and that many homes did not have indoor toilets. Turnout was slow in the morning, with many voters first going to church, according to an electoral official at a Catholic school where voting was taking place in Lome.
The previous councillors elected in local elections in Togo governed for 14 years from 1987 – despite being elected on five-year terms. Councillors were later replaced with “special delegations”, tasked with organising new elections, whose positions were often filled with figures hand-picked by the government.
The country’s 3.4 million eligible voters are called to elect 1,527 municipal councillors to six-year terms, renewable twice, in 117 towns. With the notable exception of the National Panafrican Party (PNP), which organised mass protests in April calling for a limit on presidential terms, all the main opposition parties are fielding candidates in Sunday’s elections.
The PNP is demanding constitutional reforms 15 years into the rule of President Faure Gnassingbe. He succeeded his father Eyadema Gnassingbe, who had led the country with an iron fist for 38 years.
The PNP, whose leader Tikpi Atchadam lives in exile, is demanding the release of three activists who have been held since the April protests. Some 8,000 police and security forces voted early on Friday so that they could be deployed for Sunday’s polling in the former French colony.
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