Lome–Togo’s election commission on Saturday declared the son of the country’s late dictator winner of the presidential race, extending the family’s rule into a fifth decade in a deep blow to Togo’s opposition, which vowed to take to the streets in protest.
Provisional results indicate President Faure Gnassingbe won 1.2 million votes, representing 60.9 percent of the roughly 2 million votes cast in the tiny country, said Issifou Tabiou, the head of the election body.
Opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre, who had earlier accused the ruling party of rigging the election, received 692,584 votes, or 33.9 percent.
As it became clear that the opposition had lost and Gnassingbe would get a second term, Fabre led a group of around 200 protesters to a downtown square where they were pushed back by anti-riot police who fired tear gas, said witnesses and a police spokesman.
The contentious election is only the second since the death of Eyadema Gnassingbe, who grabbed power in a 1967 coup and ruled for 43 years, only for his son to seize power upon the dictator’s death in 2005. The younger Gnassinge went on to win elections that same year that were widely viewed as rigged.
Pro-Gnassingbe soldiers openly intimidated voters at polling stations and in several instances opened fire with live ammunition before stealing the ballot box, according to a report by Amnesty International.
Although the opposition has claimed that this election was rigged, international observers said earlier they have not seen overt evidence of fraud. But they say there is evidence that the ruling party tried to buy off voters.
During campaign rallies, opposition supporters chanted "We were not paid to be here"–a jab at Gnassingbe who they accuse of handing out cash and bags of rice to supporters.
Election monitors from the European Union’s observation mission were present in at least four different regions of the country when members of the ruling party handed out rice at a cost three to four times less than at the market, according to the mission’s preliminary report released Saturday. The cheaper rice has been nicknamed "Faure Rice."
The district by district results indicated that turnout was in the 70 to 80 percent in the north of the country, where Eyadema Gnassingbe was born and which has traditionally voted for the ruling party. By contrast, voter turnout was woefully low in the south and in the capital, which is the opposition’s stronghold.
Jean-Claude Homawoo, the vice president of the election commission who is a member of the top opposition party, said that voters are so used to elections being rigged in Togo that they gave up hope just when their vote may have counted.
"It’s the effect of successive failure. So many times we went and voted in elections we knew we had won, only for the opposite result to be declared. So people have become tired. They don’t believe their vote counts anymore."
Gnassingbe’s spokesman Pascal Bodjona waved off claims that the ruling party had tried to buy the vote, saying that people who favor Gnassingbe’s policies had donated bags of rice, campaign T-shirts and other goods that were later distributed. He called the opposition "bad losers."
The election commission reached an impasse on the day of the vote Thursday after the opposition, backed by international observers, demanded that votes be sent from individual polling stations by a satellite-based system believed to be tamperproof.
A tense standoff ensued, but even once they had agreed to use the satellite system and the results began trickling in from across the small West African nation, several of the machines broke.
Tabiou, head of the election commission, called on the directors of the country’s 35 voting districts to travel to the capital with the physical proof of the votes cast in their regions.
From morning until late at night on Saturday, the commissioners sat around a large table in a conference room as the representatives of each district presented their results. In the early afternoon, two opposition-allied commissioners stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind them.
"I would have like to be able to say that, I, Jean-Claude Codjo, election commissioner, agree that this election is free and fair," he said. "But we are only being allowed to see a synthesis. I have no way of knowing if these numbers that are being read out are real. I say ‘no.’ I cannot accept this," said Codjo as he left the parking lot.
The satellite-system would have allowed the results from each of roughly 5,900 polling stations to be sent directly to the election commission’s headquarters in Lome. By contrast each of the 35 districts whose results were being read out were an aggregate of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of individual polling stations.