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Togo counts ballots as opposition claims 'fraud'

Opposition leader and presidential candidate Agbéyomé Kodjo before casting his ballot in Lomé, 22 February 2020.
Opposition leader and presidential candidate Agbéyomé Kodjo before casting his ballot in Lomé, 22 February 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Togolese officials have begun counting votes in a presidential election that is widely expected to keep the incumbent Faure Gnassingbé in office. But key challenger Agbéyomé Kodjo has insisted he could cause a shock upset – despite claiming fraud in Saturday's poll. 

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Security forces briefly surrounded the homes of Kodjo and one of his main allies shortly after the end of voting in a move the authorities said was for their "own safety".

The opposition candidate has emerged as a dark horse as he looks to stop Gnassingbé from entering a fourth term that would extend his family's half-century domination over the West African nation.

The president and his supporters had been confident of a resounding victory in the first round, despite widespread disillusionment after 53 years of dynastic rule that has failed to drag many out of poverty.

"I have the conviction that in the coming week, I will lead this country," Kodjo told journalists at a press conference in his house after the security forces left.

"Considering the revelations of fraud which marked this ballot, it is impossible for the outgoing candidate to be elected in the first round."

Kodjo claimed the authorities had used ballot stuffing, fake polling stations and people casting multiple votes to skew the results in the incumbent's favour.

The challenger said figures gathered from various polling stations showed he was in the lead in the capital Lomé and the coastal region and had "good scores" in other areas.

The election commission is expected to release the official provisional results early next week.

Calm in the capital

The situation around Lomé was calm Sunday morning, an AFP journalist reported.

Internet connections appeared to be sporadically interrupted.

Gnassingbé has led the West African country of eight million people since taking over in 2005 following the death of his father Gnassingbé Eyadema, who ruled with an iron fist for 38 years.

Kodjo, a former prime minister under Gnassingbé's father, gained ground during the campaign after winning the backing of an influential former Catholic archbishop.

The authorities banned hundreds of local observers from monitoring the election and cancelled the system of electronic security at the last moment.

Some 300 international observers were deployed, mainly from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, with many African states supporting the incumbent.

The six opposition challengers have suggested they will unite against the president if he fails to win an outright majority and the election goes to a second round.

That vote would be held 15 days after the announcement of the final results.

The authorities faced major protests in 2017 and 2018 demanding an end to the Gnassingbé family's five-decade stranglehold.

But the demonstrations petered out in the face of government repression and squabbles among the opposition.

Last May, Gnassingbé oversaw an overhaul of the constitution that allowed him to run this year -- and potentially remain in office until 2030.

Despite economic growth of around five percent, around half of Togo lives on less than $1.90 per day.

Stability and security are central to Gnassingbé's message as jihadist violence rocks its northern neighbour Burkina Faso.

Togo has so far managed to prevent the bloodshed spilling over and its army and intelligence service are among the most effective in the region.

(AFP)

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