By Komi Kueviakue
The campaigns for Togo’s Presidential elections kicked off on February 6, two weeks ahead of the voting scheduled to take place on February 22. The seven political parties and their candidates vying for the seat are :
1) ADDI (Alliance des Démocrates pour un Développement Intégral) led by Aimé Gogué;
2) MCD (Mouvement Citoyen de la Démocratie et le Développement) led by MouhamedTchassona-Traoré ;
3) ANC (Alliance Nationale pour le Changement) led by Jean-Pierre Fabre;
4)UNIR (Union pour la République) led by Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé;
5)MPDD (Mouvement Patriotique pour la Démocratie et le Développement – Dynamique Mgr Kpodzro) led by Mr AgbéyoméKodjo;
6) PSR (Pacte Socialiste pour le Renouveau) by Pr Komi Wolou and ;
7)Santé du Peuple led by Georges-William Kouessan.
Following a revision of the electoral register under the watchful eyes of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF), each candidate is now doing everything to convince an electorate of more than 3 million voters throughout the country on why they should be elected.
More than 2000 meetings, caravans, rallies and door to door visits have already taken place in all parts of the country. All other technical conditions seem to be in place to allow for a serene, peaceful, and transparent election.
Twelve days after the official start of the campaigns, what’s the mood on the ground in the country? Beyond the usual war of words and anecdotes from the campaign trail relayed by the media, what does the campaign atmosphere look like?
Different forms of public sensitization methods have been deployed far and wide across cities, towns and villages since the campaign season began. Billboards have popped up and rallies after rallies are in full swing. The campaign euphoria is just as apparent on social networks as it is on televisions screens.
Everyone’s being kept alive by a varied form of flag bearers’ speeches reminding citizens about the stakes of this election, which, for the first time, will see the participation of Togolese in the Diaspora. This vibrant election atmosphere is the fruit of a long, yet inclusive process that began in earnest in 2019.
Faure EssozimnaGnassingbé, Togo’s current President, spearheaded a constitutional reform process instituting for the first time a first-past-the-post, two-round majority election. This is one of the major innovations of this election introduced by Constitutional Law No. 2019-003 of 15 May 2019.
Noteworthy also, is that the national electoral commission CENI (Commission ElectoraleNationaleIndépendante), which is responsible for organizing, monitoring and guaranteeing a free, fair, and transparent ballot process, did not skimp on its efforts to sensitise voters and party stakeholders.
Through posters, promotional campaigns in the press and a direct outreach initiative, the body has raised voter awareness and sensitised the various actors and stakeholders (political parties, civil society organizations, associations …) to ensure that voting on Election Day is peaceful.
What is more, in the weeks preceding the campaigns, several appeals were made to the public for a non-violent election and on the need to fulfil their civic duty by going to vote. Sensitization meetings were held to teach the public about the voting process and educational inserts were published in the national daily newspaper, Togo Presse.
Meanwhile, the High Authority for Audio-visual and Communication (HAAC) hosted working sessions with journalists and invited stakeholders, notably the representatives of political actors of the seven parties, to define ethical rules and procedures to govern the electoral process.
These included the order in which the candidates were to appear in the media, the processing of information as well as the publication of campaign messages in the national daily newspaper.
Judging from the conduct of the election campaign thus far, all these actions and initiatives seem to be bearing fruit, since no grave incidents have been reported to date. According to several observers, the rallies have taken place in a more friendly atmosphere, with supporters of all the parties proclaiming victory for their respective candidates in the first round.
This overall mood is a result of preparatory work done by the parties themselves to ensure their supporters adhere to a call for peaceful elections. Officials of ADDI, MPDD and UNIR told us that “there was a prior sensitisation of our supporters to respect political opponents”.
It is also a demonstration of patriotism that each party claims beyond ideological divides. An official of Mr Jean-Pierre Fabre’s ANC (Alliance Nationale pour le Changement) asserted that “It is a proof of our responsibility, our political maturity and, therefore, of our ability to govern.”
Essentially, the consensus among the leaders is to avoid confrontations, provocations and sometimes altercations that could quickly escalate into skirmishes between convoys and caravans of supporters of opposing parties.
Moreover, this sense of discipline can be seen when analyzing the order in which publicity material has been displayed in the capital city of Lomé where one can find posters of competing political parties posted next to each other, with no sign of deformation by supporters of opposing camps, unlike in the past.
But perhaps the most obvious and plausible sign of the serenity of this electoral campaign is undeniably the orderly sequencing of rallies of the different candidates in the different localities in the country. Noteworthy to mention is that the Security Force for the Presidential Election (FOSEP 2020) tasked with the mission of securing the electoral process is keeping a close watch and accompanying all the parties as the need arises.
Easily distinguished by their unique armbands, the FOSEP are hard to miss on the ground. Indeed, this freedom of movement and the fact that all the candidates in the race can hold rallies even in the strongholds of their rivals testifies not only to the smooth progress of this electoral campaign but also to the evolving entrenchment of democratic principles that guarantee freedom of expression and assembly in Togo.
This explains how on February 16, 2020, in Sokodé in the Central Region, Mr AgbéyoméKodjo (flagbearer MPDD – DynamiqueMgrKpodzro), could hold a rally at the same spot where the supporters of the UNIR party had met their flagbearer, Mr Faure EssozimnaGnassingbé just a few days before.
As we write MrAgbéyoméKodjo is proceeding towards the far north with his campaign in the Savannah Region where he will hold rallies in Cinkassé, Dapaong, Tandjoaré and Mango. MrTchassona-Traore, flagbearer of the MCD party, for his part, preferred to complete his campaign in the Plateaux Region, where he unveiled his social plan to the people.
Even in the absence of reliable and credible opinion polls, the ruling party UNIR appears to be the favourite for the February 22 elections. Indeed, during the recent municipal elections, in which all the parties in the ongoing presidential elections took part, the UNIR party secured a sweeping victory.