It is the classic case of David versus Goliath with the only twist being that Goliath won. Hot on the heels of Uganda, Togo becomes the latest in several African nations to change the constitution to extend presidential terms.
Togo's parliament has voted a constitutional change that imposes a two-term limit for Presidents. The change, however, does not apply to the current President Faure Gnassingbé, whose family is the longest-running political dynasty in Africa. The family has ruled the small West African country since 1967 when General Gnassingbé Eyadema, the current President's father seized power in a coup more than 50 years ago. In 2005, Gnassingbé succeeded his father after 38 years of authoritarian rule under the latter's regime.
The announcement was made shortly before midnight after 90 out 91 MPs cast a secret ballot in favour of the constitutional revisions. The changes are not so surprising given that two-thirds of the lawmakers are allied to the ruling party, following last year's parliamentary election which the opposition boycotted.
Opposition politicians wanted the new cap to apply to President Gnassingbé and during the parliamentary debate, several lawmakers threatened to boycott the vote over a proposal to also extend the presidential term to seven years. The matter has stirred controversy in recent years but in the end, it was the ruling party's proposal that capped the presidential term limit to five years that carried the day.
Given the fact that the Togolese Constitution requires a minimum of four-fifths for any constitutional changes, undoubtedly, the opposition politicians were always going to lose in this regard. With the ruling party controlling two-thirds of the seats in parliament and having the support of other parties that have become allies of President Gnassingbé, they already had their work cut out for them if they were to stamp their authority in parliament.
What the new law now means is that future presidents can only serve a maximum of two five year terms. However, this law does not apply retrospectively meaning that President Faure Gnassingbé is eligible to run two more times and potentially remain in power until 2030. It is highly doubted that he will choose to stand down in the next two elections, in 2020 and 2025. Pursuant to the new amendment to the Togolese Constitution:
The President of the Republic is elected by universal suffrage... for a term of five years, renewable once. "
The new presidential term limits were not the only changes made to the constitution. The lawmakers also passed laws making the presidential election a two-round race and extended their own mandate from five years to six years. Prior to the change, the lawmakers had a mandate of five years with an unlimited number of terms but with the change, they can only hold their seats for two terms of six years each.
It is important to note that the opposition is on record for having opposed the reforms with their supporters often demonstrating and demanding that President Gnassingbé resign. Having boycotted last year's elections on the grounds that the playing field was not fair for all parties, it seems that it is now dawning on the 14-party opposition coalition that their actions did not force the outcome that they had hoped for. By boycotting the elections, they not only left parliament in the hands of Gnassingbé's party but also condemned the country to more years of autocratic rule.
Togo's opposition leaders join a long list of others who have boycotted elections citing various credibility and transparency issues. Not so long along the Kenyan opposition coalition leaders boycotted the presidential re-run elections in 2017 that saw President Uhuru Kenyatta's secure a second term in office. Following drawn-out legal battles and endless demonstrations, the opposition leaders found themselves having to cede ground having realised that the outcome they had hoped for would not materialise. Just like Togo, the Kenyan President's party has the majority of the seats in Parliament.
Is boycotting elections the only way to protest transparency and fair level playing field in elections or is there another alternative? It appears as though boycotts are just one step short of uprisings. Once opposition leaders refuse to participate in elections and later realised that they did not achieve the desired outcome, it seems to them as the next logical step is to call on people power to force the outcome that they ought to have had in the first place. Hopefully, this will not be the case in Togo but the story is just unfolding.
Header image credit - pulse.ng
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