Togo's president wins, keeping family's long hold on power

Togo's electoral commission says the country's president has easily won a fourth term, extending the grip his family has had on power since 1967

LOME, Togo -- Togo's electoral commission said Monday the country's president has easily won a fourth term, extending the grip his family has had on power since 1967, while the opposition alleged organized fraud.

The commission announced overnight that President Faure Gnassingbe received 72% of the votes in preliminary results. The West African nation's constitutional court will make the final, official announcement.

Opposition candidate Agbeyome Kodjo, who was second with 18% of the vote, saw his home surrounded by the military as vote-counting began. The minister of security, Gen. Damehame Yark, said it was done to ensure protection.

On Monday, Kodjo rejected the results, describing them as “concocted in the ruling party’s laboratory.” He added that “these fabricated numbers give the sense that we are in a real dictatorship, a dictatorship which wants nothing to do with democracy and doesn’t respect civil or political laws.”

The current president took office in 2005 following the death of his father, who seized power in 1967. Under the country's current law, Gnassingbe could remain in office until 2030.

Months of anti-government protests in 2017, with about 20 people killed, were a marked sign of impatience with the Gnassingbe family's hold on power.

Shortly before Saturday's vote, Togo expelled a major U.S.-based election observer, the National Democratic Institute, and decided against using an electronic vote-counting system. In both cases, the electoral commission said it feared disruption, while critics objected.

The election was observed by 26 other international observation missions and more than 30 Togolese civic groups. The electoral commission reported a voting rate of nearly 77% of the 3.6 million registered voters.

Gnassingbe enacted a law last year that limits presidents to two five-year terms. However, the law was not retroactive, so his previous three terms are not counted.

The election was held against the backdrop of rising prices for basic necessities, a weak health system and an education system in which teachers continually threaten strikes. Unemployment among young people is increasing.

The president called on voters to renew confidence in him to guarantee peace and security in Togo amid a growing extremism threat in the West African region.