TOGO: ECOWAS says no elections before 24 April, Olympio plans to stand
LOME, 3 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - West African neighbours trying to end Togo's leadership transition crisis have concluded that fresh presidential elections cannot realistically be held before 24 April.
"ECOWAS has taken into account the various stages of the electoral process, notably revising electoral lists, studying candidates' dossiers, and the campaign itself," said Adrienne Diop, a spokeswoman for the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
"Elections will not be able to take place until after April 24," she announced on Wednesday.
ECOWAS placed sanctions on Togo after Faure Gnassingbe seized power following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema who had ruled this small West African country for 38 years.
But after Gnassingbe agreed to step down as interim president on 25 February, ECOWAS pledged to provide advisers to help organise the free and fair election of a new head of state.
The opposition, which boycotted several earlier elections under Eyadema, has announced that it will contest the presidential vote.
But a coaliton of six opposition parties is still mulling whether to present a united front against Gnassingbe, who has already been chosen as the candidate of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party.
Gilchrist Olympio, the exiled leader of the main opposition party, the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), was prevented from standing against Eyadema in the 2003 presidential election. But Olympio said on Thursday that he intended to take on the dead leader's son.
"I am the candidate of my party," Olympio told IRIN by telephone from Paris where he has been living for several years.
"Of course the government we have and the constitutional court we have might not... let me stand," he said. "If they bar me, then... up to 74 percent of the Togolese electorate will be barred too."
Eyadema, who died on 5 February, amended the constitution of the West African nation in 2002, inserting a clause that requires all presidential candidates to lived in Togo for at least 12 months prior to the election.
This may prevent Olympio from running, since another article of the constitution stipulates that no ammendments can be made to the charter during the rule of an interim president.
With Olympio having thrown his hat into the ring regardless, the other opposition parties must decide whether to rally round him or his chosen representative, or present their own candidates.
"Gilchrist announcing his candidacy worried us," Leopold Gnininvi, the leader of the Democratic Convention of the African People (CDPA) party told IRIN on Thursday. "Tomorrow and the day after we will discuss the question of a single candidate and if all goes well we will have the name of that candidate on Saturday."
Some analysts think that the opposition must choose a single candidate to stand a chance of winning.
"In the end, the opposition's main chance lies in forming a united front -- whether they can do that successfully remains to be seen," said Olly Owen, an Africa analyst at London-based research house Global Insight.
So far, no date has been set t for Togo's presidential election. According to one interpretation of the constitution, the poll must be held within 60 days of the death or incapacity of the incumbent head of state. That would mean 3 April at the latest.
However, ECOWAS has said publicly that free and fair poll cannot realistically be organised in such a short time frame.
It wants the 60-day count down to start on 26 February, the day the vice-president of the national assembly, Abbas Bonfoh, took over from Gnassingbe as interim head of state.
The Togolese constitution stipulates that if a president dies in office, the 'electoral body' must be convened within 60 days to choose a new leader.
But there is some disagreement about when that 60-day period starts and whether elections have to be actually held within 60 days or simply announced.
Some diplomats in West Africa believe Togo's ruling party and influential army will go for an early poll on 3 April to maximise the chances of Gnassingbe making an early return to power through the ballot box.