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Most Togolese support term limits. But they just re-elected their president for a third term.

Continuing our series of Election Reports, the following is a post-election report on the recent Togolese presidential election.

More than 2 million Togolese participated in the April 25 presidential election that secured incumbent President Faure Gnassingbé’s third term in office. Faure — as he is popularly known — won with 59 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, Jean-Pierre Fabre, won only 35 percent of the vote.
Faure was re-elected to a third term despite increasingly negative public opinion toward long presidential tenures. In the 2012 and 2014 waves of the Afrobarometer survey, an overwhelming majority of Togolese reported in favor of  limiting presidential tenure to two terms. Contrasted against Faure’s having won 59 percent of the recent vote, 83 percent of Togolese reported wanting presidential term limits in 2012, and in 2014, the proportion was 85 percent.

Historical context for contemporary Togolese opinion on term limits

Faure Gnassingbé’s father, Eyadéma Gnassingbé, led West Africa’s first military coup, in which Togo’s first president, Sylvanus Olympio, was assassinated, in 1963. After a second coup, in 1967, Eyadéma installed himself as president. In 1969, he established a party that ruled the country uncontested until 1992, when national protests led to a new constitution. Eyadéma won the country’s first multiparty presidential election in 1993, and as well as the 1998 vote, thanks in part to heavy support in the north — his home region — as well as systematic fraud and violence carried out by security forces. One particularly haunting example was in the period around the 1998 election, when there were reports of hundreds of corpses thrown into the sea.

Togo’s 1992 constitution established a two-term limit for the presidency, but in 2002, the legislature amended the constitution to enable Eyadéma to run for a third term the following year. These developments are not unusual in sub-Saharan Africa. According to a 2009 study, among the 18 presidents who faced term limits between 1990 and 2005, nine made an attempt to change the constitution and six, including Eyadéma in Togo, were successful. Eyadéma won a third term in 2003, then passed away in 2005.

Although the constitution states that the head of the National Assembly should become interim president in the event of an incumbent president’s death, the military installed Faure Gnassingbé as president, prompting protests inside the country as well as among neighboring governments. The constitution was retroactively changed to make Faure’s interim presidency legal, and elections were held soon after. Faure won the election, but it was marred with irregularities, including security force members performing raids and taking computers during vote tallies. When Faure was announced the winner, protests erupted and hundreds were killed in post-election violence.

Recent elections, some reform, and the ruling party gets a new name

In response to pressure from the European Union (which withheld foreign aid), the electoral code was amended in 2007, returning responsibility for organizing elections to an independent election commission (known by its French acronym, CENI), resulting in legislative elections in 2007 and 2013 and a presidential election in 2010 that observers deemed relatively free and fair.

After the 2010 election, the long-standing leader of the main opposition party, the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), Gilchrist (son of Sylvanus) Olympio, agreed to join a coalition government for the first time since the start of multiparty politics. Jean-Pierre Fabre, who ran as the UFC presidential candidate in 2010 because Olympio was disqualified, established a new opposition party, soon joined by most UFC members, called the National Alliance for Change (ANC), which is now the main opposition party.
Shortly thereafter, in 2012, Faure Gnassingbé dissolved his father’s party and created a new ruling party, Union for the Republic (UNIR).

The 2013 legislative election delivered a dominant majority for the ruling party, thanks to district lines that awarded more seats per vote in the north. Like his father before him, Faure Gnassingbé is more popular in the north than in the south — partly because of distributed government benefits, from bags of rice to jobs.

Stalled reform, protests and the 2015 election

Prior to the 2015 election, opposition political parties with their militants took to the streets, demanding constitutional changes ahead of the presidential election. Their primary demand was limiting the presidency to two terms. In response, the legislature held a vote on re-introducing term limits in June 2014, but the bill was voted down by the ruling party with its strong majority. In November 2014, a group of opposition MPs again introduced a bill on constitutional and institutional reforms for a vote in the National Assembly, but it also failed.

In November 2014, thousands of Togolese protested in the capital, Lome, protesting Gnassingbé’s seeking a third term. Their protests were met with tear gas and a water cannon. Analysts questioned whether Togo would follow the example of neighboring Burkina Faso, in which long-ruling Blaise Compaoré was forced to resign from office after protesters called for his departure in October 2014. (Note that similar protests are occurring in Burundi.)

Despite multiple efforts by the opposition, no constitutional change occurred before the 2015 election. One important opposition party, the Action Committee for Renewal (CAR), called for a boycott. But Fabre, opposition front-runner and head of a five-party coalition known as CAP 2015, decided to compete in the election. Fabre argued against the boycott and called for Togolese citizens to support political alternation via the ballot box.

But Gnassingbé garnered more than a majority of the popular vote in elections that observers are calling “free and fair.” Fabre has proclaimed that the results announced by the CENI president are fraudulent because they are inconsistent with those compiled by his coalition.

Fabre may be drawing on public mistrust of the CENI. Afrobarometer data from 2012 and 2014 show that only about 20 percent of Togolese have much confidence in the CENI. In the 2015 election, CENI proposed the use of a system called “SUCCESS” that was meant to collect and centralize election results. Opposition leaders denounced SUCCESS as a new means of electoral fraud. Tchabouré Gogue, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Alliance for Integral Development (ADDI), released a statement the day before the election saying that any results proclaimed through SUCCESS should be rejected.

The 2015 election was mostly a contest between the same candidates as in the 2010 election, though their parties had new names. The vote-share results were similar as well, differing by just a percentage point, although turnout was lower than in previous elections. As in previous elections, the opposition candidate disputes the official results and claims victory.

Ekoutiamé A. Ahlin is the co-coordinator of academic affairs at the Center for Research and Opinion Polls (CROP) in Lomé, Togo.

Tyson Roberts is lecturer in political science at UCLA.