[Togo] AfricTivistes protests against Togo’s constitutional change!

[Togo] AfricTivistes protests against Togo’s constitutional change!

In Togo, the President of the Republic will no longer be elected by direct universal suffrage. A new Constitution was adopted on second reading on Friday April 19th, with 87 votes out of 87 in a Parliament largely dominated by the ruling majority. The text was approved  on first reading late on March 25th. 

Once the new constitution is enacted, Togo will hence have a parliamentary system, giving lawmakers the power to elect the president which would become a largely ceremonial role with a four-year term.  

The executive power will shift to the newly created position of president of the council of ministers, a kind of prime minister, who would also be chosen by parliament, which is currently dominated by President Faure Gnassingbe’s ruling UNIR party. That post would have a mandate of four years, though it is unclear whether the president of the council can be re-elected to another term.

On Wednesday March 27th, the day after the first adoption of this text by the deputies, a press conference organised by opposition parties and civil society organizations was interrupted and dispersed by thirty heavily-equipped  gendarmes for lack of necessary permits to hold the gathering.  They also prevented an opposition demonstration against the new Constitution from taking place on Friday April 12 and Saturday April 13.

Adopted by referendum and promulgated on October 14th, 1992, Togo’s current Constitution has already undergone several amendments. In 2019, the Togo National Assembly, two-thirds dominated by the UNIR following the opposition boycott of the 2018 legislative elections, limited presidential terms to two, allowing Faure Gnassingbé to stand for re-election in 2020 and 2025.

On April 7th, in response to the growing social media protests against the proposed constitutional changes, a joint statement from Togo’s Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Security and Civil Protection recalled that “the dissemination of false news and slander, particularly in the current context of constitutional revision (…), represents a threat to social peace and the country’s security, and constitutes an offence punishable in accordance with the criminal  code and cybersecurity legislation”.

In a context where the legislative and regional elections initially scheduled for April 20th have been deferred to April 29th, the Haute Autorité de l’Audiovisuel et de la Communication (HAAC) has “temporarily” suspended all accreditations for the foreign media after  French freelance journalist Thomas Dietrich was deported for, “deliberate maneuvers tending to mask his real profession, among other reasons.”

AfricTivistes strongly condemns this blatant violation of Togo’s 1992 Constitution, article 59 of which stipulates that “any change to the government system, the nature of suffrage, the length of the mandate and the number of mandates must be submitted to a referendum-”

Article 144 reinforces this provision by stipulating that there can never be a revision of the Constitution during periods of vacancy and interim power for the presidential, judicial and legislative powers. The mandate of the current parliament ended in December 2023, and according to the Constitution, it could only legislate one week after the end of its mandate on January 7th, 2024. 

On a regional level, the Additional Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance of regional body Ecowas stipulates in Article 1 that “any accession to power must be through free, honest and transparent elections” and that “any anti-constitutional amendment is prohibited, as is any non-democratic method of accession to or maintenance of power”.

Finally, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, ratified by Togo, urges States Parties in its Article 10 to find “a national consensus (…) which should, where appropriate, lead to a referendum” on constitutional amendment or revision. 

We consider this capture of popular sovereignty to be another attempt  by the current president, Faure Gnassingbé, to stay in power despite fierce opposition from the Togolese people, which often lead to regrettable consequences such as demonstrations that have been systematically banned since 2022. 

AfricTivistes, an organisation promoting participatory democracy and constitutions based on freedoms and rights, warns the Togolese authorities against possible censorship and restriction of fundamental rights, including freedoms of assembly, demonstration, expression…

AfricTivistes joins the many voices that have expressed their indignation and concern at the current situation in Togo, and calls on the President of Togo not to enact this “new” Constitution. 

We also call on the Togolese authorities, in accordance with the country’s fundamental law, to uphold the foundations of the rule of law. 

We urge the ECOWAS fact-finding mission currently in Togo to ensure compliance with community laws and discuss with all key stakeholders in Togo. By doing so, the mission can significantly contribute to resolving the political crisis currently gripping the country.

AfricTivistes stands in solidarity with the Togolese people and their aspirations for democratic governance and national development.

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