Few Togolese would seem less likely to offer praise for their country’s political system than Gilchrist Olympio. His father, Sylvanus, Togo’s first post-independence president, was assassinated in 1963 by a hit squad led by Eyadéma Gnassingbé, who seized power in a coup four years later and ruled Togo with an iron fist for 38 years. A severe critic of his father’s murderer, the exiled Mr Olympio was twice sentenced to death in absentia. But much has changed in this country of 6m-plus people, wedged between Ghana to the west and Benin to the east, since the presidency passed to Faure Gnassingbé, the coup-plotter’s son (pictured), in 2005. Slowly but noticeably he has begun to loosen the reins. Three years ago he created a national unity government that includes Mr Olympio, who is repaying the favour by praising Mr Gnassingbé ahead of a general election, delayed from last year, that is due to take place on July 25th. “We are now in a democratic system,” he says, while gearing up to oppose the president’s party in the poll.
A novel sense of unpredictability precedes the vote. An opposition coalition called “Let’s Save Togo”, a collection of prominent figures and parties formed last year, has led street protests in the capital, Lomé, demanding constitutional reforms and the release of political prisoners. Further unrest, fuelled by economic discontent, has hit the traditional strongholds of the Gnassingbé family in the north.
Foreign observers deemed the 2007 parliamentary and 2010 presidential elections more or less free and fair. The opposition hotly disputed those findings. It has called for greater transparency this time and says it will win a straight vote. Negotiations over election rules have continued well into the official campaign period. If some of the political furniture has moved, the essential architecture is intact. After 46 years, a Gnassingbé still occupies the presidency, backed by an army dominated by the family’s northern Kabyé ethnic group.
The opposition hopes a new parliament will endorse constitutional reforms, including presidential term limits. But some still doubt that Mr Gnassingbé is sincere. Torture and arbitrary arrests are said to remain common. After unexplained fires in January tore through markets in the capital and in the northern city of Kara, dozens of opposition people were rounded up; many of them are still behind bars.
Full Article: Togo’s election: A tale of two families | The Economist.