LOME (Reuters) - Togo voted on Saturday in an election expected to give President Faure Gnassingbe a third term in office that could extend his family’s grip on power to more than half a century.
Gnassingbe has been president since 2005, when his father died after 38 years in charge of the west African nation. The election has been largely peaceful and there are no signs of the tension that led to violence in 2005 when hundreds died after the election.
Gnassingbe faces a divided opposition of four challengers headed by official opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre, who came second in 2010.
Voting ended at 4 p.m. (12:00 p.m. EDT) and counting began immediately. Local election observers said reports suggested turnout was around 40 percent at midday.
The election commission will announce results based on paper results sheets from counting centers rather than those sent electronically, political parties and observer missions said after overnight talks.
Gnassingbe’s mandate ends on May 3 so his camp are keen to get results out quickly. The opposition had said it feared the electronic system could facilitate rigging of an election delayed for 10 days to clean up voter lists.
As there are no limits to the number of terms a president can serve in Togo, Gnassingbe is free to seek re-election without having to tweak his country’s constitution. But elsewhere in Africa the issue is sensitive.
The president of Burkina Faso was overthrown last year trying to change the constitution so he could seek re-election. Critics of Burundi’s president have warned his bid to seek a third term may rekindle conflict there.
“We don’t have 100 percent confidence in the process but we just want reconciliation. Whoever wins must create jobs,” said Tony Kpodo, 23, who voted in the capital. Gnassingbe has pledged to ease poverty by pursuing the infrastructure-driven economic growth he has overseen since the 2005 violence.
Campaign slogans, dominated by puns using his first name, Faure, which sounds like the French “fort”, meaning “strong”, pledge more schools, roads and opportunities in the transport and services hub he is trying to establish in the nation of 7 million.
After voting at a school attached to a military camp, the president called for people to patiently wait for results.
“The candidates have spoken. Now it is up to the people to make their choice,” he said.
After 48 years with the same family in charge, his rivals say Togo needs new leadership. Strikes by teachers and medics have in recent months turned violent. Opposition parties said inaccuracies in the voter roll might favor the president.
Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Mark Trevelyan