ISS Today: No time to waste in implementing Togo’s reforms

    0
    12

    First published by ISS Today

    Weeks after their first protest on 19 August
    that led to
    two deaths,
    opposition
    parties in Togo continue to maintain pressure on the
    government. As a result of this and last month’s demonstrations
    by thousands of people in several cities and among the
    diaspora, the government adopted a draft of a constitutional
    reform bill on 5 September.

    The most significant reform focuses on
    limiting the term of office for parliamentarians and the
    country’s president, and a return to a two-round system for
    presidential elections.

    Debates on the implementation of
    constitutional and institutional reforms date back to the 2006
    Global Political Agreement (APG). This agreement was signed
    after post-electoral violence following Faure Gnassingbé’s
    victory in the 2005 contested presidential election, with the
    support of the  Economic Community of West African States
    (Ecowas). It eased tensions particularly because it provided
    for the implementation of reforms in line with the 1992
    constitution.

    That constitution was amended in 2002 to allow
    then president Gnassingbé Eyadéma – father of the current
    president – whose term of office was drawing to an end, to run
    for election. After 38 years in power, he was replaced by his
    son as head of state. The revision abolished the limitation on
    the number of terms the president could serve, and introduced a
    single ballot for presidential elections. It also changed the
    method of appointment of the members of the Constitutional
    Court by conferring power on the country’s president to appoint
    the court’s president.

    Eleven years after the APG was signed, its
    recommendations still haven’t been implemented.

    The government, under pressure from political
    actors and civil society, says it is open to the reforms.
    However a lack of political will by the ruling party and
    disagreement between the government and opposition (and within
    the opposition itself) about implementation of the reforms are

    holding back
    the process. The result has been the recurrent political

    crisis
    in Togo since 2006.

    Two main obstacles remain. These are the
    retroactivity of the limitation on the president’s term, and
    the reforms mostly regarding the Constitutional Court. The 2002
    constitution stipulates that “the president of the Republic
    shall be elected through direct universal suffrage for a term
    of five years. He is re-eligible”.

    While in 2015 some opposition parties were
    ready to compromise and accept a final candidacy for the
    current president, many are no longer willing to do this. For
    them, a term limit is no longer sufficient– it must have a
    retroactive effect taking into account the past three mandates
    of the president in order to remove him from the presidential
    race in 2020.

    Within the ruling party – the Union for the
    Republic (UNIR) – the term limit is also subject to debate.
    Even if the principle seems to be accepted, its retroactivity
    is not.

    Institutional reforms regarding the
    Constitutional Court have also been a major point of
    disagreement. The opposition continue to denounce the lack of
    neutrality of the court based on its composition and the method
    for selecting judges. The participation of the court’s
    president – who is appointed by the president of the country –
    in the ruling party’s rally on 29 August reinforced opposition
    parties’ criticism of the court’s partiality.

    For the opposition, a return to the 1992
    constitution would guarantee the court’s independence,
    especially regarding the electoral process. That constitution
    extended the power to appoint judges from the court to the
    judiciary, the bar and the universities, and also provided that
    the president of the court would be elected by his
    peers.

    The memory of ruling party members of
    parliament rejecting a draft bill on constitutional and
    institutional reforms tabled by government in 2014 is still a
    bitter one for the opposition. Some of the reforms currently
    being discussed were proposed in that draft bill. The rejection
    highlights the fact that no reform can be passed without the
    political will of the ruling party, which has a comfortable

    majority
    in
    parliament with 62 out of the 91 seats.

    After 50 years of the Gnassingbé family’s
    rule, Togo remains the only country in West Africa that hasn’t
    had a democratic change of government. In 2015, Faure
    Gnassingbé and former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh blocked

    Ecowas’ proposal

    to limit the term of office for presidents in
    the region. Jammeh left power in January, and so the Togolese
    president – who has been in power for 12 years – is now a lone
    ranger.

    As the current president of Ecowas, Faure
    Gnassingbé has a dual responsibility. First national – to
    ensure the effective implementation of the long-awaited
    constitutional and institutional reforms in his country. Then
    regional – to follow the process of democratic consolidation
    and political stability in West Africa or risk inciting a wave
    of violence in a region prey to insecurity.

    DM

    Jeannine Ella Abatan is a Researcher and
    Paulin Maurice Toupane, a Researcher, ISS Dakar

    Photo: Faure Essozimna
    Gnassingbe, President of Togo, speaks during an Opening
    Statement to the 31st session of the Human Rights Council, at
    the European headquarters of the United Nations (UN) in Geneva,
    Switzerland, 29 February 2016. EPA/SANDRO CAMPARDO

    LEAVE A REPLY