By John Zodzi
LOME (Reuters) – Togolese citizens voted on Saturday in a presidential election expected to extend Faure Gnassingbe’s 15 years in office, and his family’s more than half a century in power.
Many in the West African country of 8 million say they are fed up with the dynasty of Gnassingbe and his father Eyadema Gnassingbe, who seized power in a 1967 coup, and the persistent poverty that followed.
But the family has fended off challenges, including protests that were met with deadly force in 2005 and 2017. Some political analysts expect Gnassingbe to win the election outright in the first round.
After voting, Gnassingbe said he was pleased with the turn-out. “I’m confident. I’ve been supported by my campaigners and sympathizers.”
The election follows a constitutional revamp last year that limits presidents to two five-year terms. The reform was not retroactive, however, meaning the president could be in power for another decade.
Polling stations closed at 1600 GMT and vote-counting started. Provisional results are expected in six days.
Gnassingbe faces six rivals from a divided and weak opposition, including Jean-Pierre Fabre, a former journalist and human rights campaigner who came second in elections in 2010 and 2015. He says he wants to restore democracy in Togo.
“We are going to try to go around the polling stations to check on the regularity of the electoral operations because when we know what goes on in Togo you need to be extremely vigilant,” Fabre said after voting.
During the 2017 demonstrations, Gnassingbe resisted calls to make a two-term limit of the presidency retroactive but conceded some form of term limits.
His father ruled the former French colony as a dictator for 25 years before agreeing in 1992 to notional multi-party democracy and a limit of two presidential terms.
However, lawmakers amended the constitution 10 years later to allow him to run again. When he died in 2005, the military controversially installed his son as interim president.
Saturday’s winner must secure a majority to avoid a run-off, which would take place next month. Opposition candidates say a centralized counting system will help Gnassingbe to cheat, a charge his government denies.
Gnassingbe says he will continue reforms that have helped achieve economic growth of around 5% in recent years. Even so, over half of the population lives in poverty, according to the African Development Bank.
“Like many Togolese, I voted for change. Here’s to a new president coming to power,” car mechanic Edoh Komi, 47, said at a polling station in Lome.
(Additional reporting by Yvonne Bell in Dakar; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Aaron Ross, Frances Kerry, Pravin Char and Giles Elgood)