New Togo leader pledges free and fair elections

Posted in Africa | 01-Mar-05 | Source: Mail & Guardian Online

Togolese Parliament speaker Abass Bonfoh.
Togo's new leader, Abass Bonfoh, made interim head of state during the night by Parliament, on Saturday promised "free and open elections" within 60 days, to end a political crisis that has seen the country isolated internationally.

"We're going to try, within the [constitutionally] prescribed period, to hold free and open elections in order to satisfy all the Togolese," Bonfoh said, the day after army-installed ruler Faure Gnassingbe stood down, pledging an election.

In another development, after African leaders welcomed Gnassingbe's response to first regional and then pan-African sanctions, the president's office in Lome said a team from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) will arrive in Lome on Monday.

It was not immediately clear, however, when the two-month period to hold a presidential election begins. Bonfoh's announcement came after a further flurry of parliamentary moves like those which followed Gnassingbe's accession to office on February 5.

He was rushed into office to succeed his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had been in charge of Togo as an iron-fisted one-time military ruler since 1967. To do this, Parliament made him its speaker, then head of state, and dismissed then speaker Fambare Natchaba Ouattara, who was then abroad.

"The arrival of the [Ecowas] team has been delayed until Monday," said the official statement, reversing initial announcements that the 15-nation group's chairperson, President Mamadou Tandja of Niger, would arrive on Saturday.

The delegation will also include the presidents of Nigeria and Ghana, Olusegun Obasanjo and John Kufour, the presidency said.

Opposition leaders, whose political supporters were out in Lome streets on Saturday, like backers of Gnassingbe, have demanded that political agreement be reached on the appropriate conditions before elections, in order to ensure that they are indeed fair.

Gnassingbe's decision late on Friday to stand down, in the face of a united front of African leaders demanding a return to constitutional rule and the imposition of sanctions, came hours after the ruling Togolese People's Rally chose him for its candidate in a presidential poll. -- Sapa-AFP