Voters Flock To Togo Poll In Test Of Democracy

Voters Flock To Togo Poll In Test Of Democracy

Published March 4, 2010

LOME, Togo (AP) -- Togo's top opposition candidate on Thursday warned that people would not accept a fraudulent election this year as citizens flocked to voting stations in the second election being held since the death of the country's dictator.

Candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre cast doubt on the re-election chances of President Faure Gnassingbe, who is pitted against Fabre and five other candidates.

Gnassingbe, the son of Togo's long-ruling dictator, vastly outspent the other candidates and wallpapered the country with his campaign posters. He hopes to win a second term and erase memories of the reportedly fraudulent election that brought him to power five years ago. But Fabre, who is Gnassingbe's leading contender, has not forgotten.

"I want the people who think they can play around with our election results to be very careful," Fabre told reporters soon after emerging from the voting booth Thursday, his finger stained with purple ink. "The people will not accept it."

Known simply as "Faure," the son of dictator Eyadema Gnassingbe assumed power in a military-backed coup hours after his father's death on Feb. 5, 2005. Under intense international pressure, he agreed to briefly step down and hold elections but the vote was marred by serious allegations of fraud. Back then, the military burst into polling stations and made off with ballot boxes.

At least 400 people were killed in the violence that engulfed the country after the controversial results were announced.

Gnassingbe's father had come to power after killing Togo's first president Sylvanus Olympio in a coup 47 years ago.

Although seven candidates are in Thursday's race, the contest is really between two families: Gnassingbe and Gilchrist Olympio, the slain president's son.

The government disqualified Olympio from running in Thursday's race, so the 74-year-old threw his weight behind Fabre, his party's general secretary.

On Thursday, Gnassingbe arrived at the polling station where his father used to vote, encircled by bodyguards who beat back the crowd. "It depends on the will of the people. If the people want me, I will win," the 43-year-old said.

Olympio came back to Togo over the weekend to rally support for his party. Olympio has tried and failed to run in almost every single presidential election in the past two decades, but nearly every time the government finds a technicality to disqualify him, including this year when he was barred from the race because he had improperly filled in his health certificate.

Opposition supporters lining up to vote said that although they know little about Fabre, they see him as stand-in for the son of the murdered president, also considered the father of Togo's independence.

"Gilchrist is one and the same as Fabre and Fabre is one and the same as Gilchrist," said a 46-year-old pool repairman who said he was casting his vote for the Union of the Forces for Change, or UFC, the party founded by the younger Olympio.

The country of 6 million has never had a vote deemed free and fair in its history, although it has held multiparty elections in regular intervals since 1993. The Independent Electoral Commission said an estimated 3.2 million voters were registered to cast their ballot Thursday at over 5,900 polling stations in the tiny country squeezed between Benin and Ghana.


Associated Press Writer Ebow Godwin contributed to this report.

Written by <P class="ap-story-p">By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, Associated Press Writer</P>


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