The Independent National Electoral Commission said Togo's incumbent President Faure Gnassingbe (pictured) had won 62 percent of the vote, far ahead of his nearest rival, with 12 percent of ballots counted
Lome (AFP) - Togo's incumbent President Faure Gnassingbe appeared set for a third term Monday after a weekend election, with partial results giving him a strong lead.
A victory in Saturday's vote -- described by regional monitors as "free and transparent" overall -- would extend his family's rule of almost 50 years over the tiny west African nation.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said Gnassingbe had won 62 percent of the vote, far ahead of his nearest rival Jean-Pierre Fabre, who took 32 percent with about 12 percent of ballots counted.
Up to around 55 percent of the country's 3.5 million voters turned out on Saturday, according to the CENI, which has five days to announce the final outcome.
Turnout was significantly lower than in 2010, when nearly two thirds of registered voters took part.
Gnassingbe appeared confident as he gave a televised speech to commemorate Togolese independence, welcoming "the serene and peaceful climate all over the country", and hailed voters' "political maturity".
"I invite every Togolese to accept the verdict of the ballot box," Gnassingbe said.
However the main opposition, Combat for Political Change (CAP 2015), accused the government of "fraud" and "ballot-stuffing".
"We contest the (partial) results," said Eric Dupuy, spokesman for Gnassingbe's main rival, Jean-Pierre Fabre.
CAP 2015 had dispatched one to two observers to each voting office, Dupuy said, adding that his group "demands that partial results stop being announced".
Experts had said the narrow chance of a loss for Gnassingbe would depend on a massive voter turnout, but civil society groups said participation rates were "very weak".
Early results Monday came from 934 of a total of 8,994 polling stations in six regions of the country, a long strip of land that lies between Ghana and Benin, the commission said.
"We wanted to give you a more complete message," CENI head Taffa Tabiou told journalists after a night of counting.
"Unfortunately, in the current state of play, we haven't been able to make much progress."
Gnassingbe has been in power since the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, in 2005, winning contested elections that year and five years later.
His father came to power in 1967, and ruled the country with an iron fist. When he died in February 2005, the army put his son in power, causing an outcry. Faure Gnassingbe resigned and then won a hastily organised election.
Analysts say divisions within the opposition five-party coalition CAP 2015 combined with the benefits of incumbency made Fabre's prospects of victory very dim.
- 'Peaceful atmosphere' -
The African Union bloc, which sent 43 observers, on Monday said the election had "allowed the Togolese people to choose their president... freely and in transparency".
Amos Sawyer, head of the regional ECOWAS observation mission that sent 100 monitors to the polls, on Sunday said the vote had overall been "free, transparent and organised in an acceptable manner".
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the smooth vote and urged "all political leaders and segments of society to continue to maintain the peaceful atmosphere that has prevailed throughout the electoral process", his spokesman said in a statement.
Few of the roughly seven million people in the former French trust territory, which was inherited from German rule after World War I, have felt the benefit of recent economic growth.
According to the government, unemployment is rife at 29 percent.
While Lome is considered an opposition stronghold, many in the countryside would rather keep Gnassingbe in power than vote for an opposition they mistrust.
Currently there are no limits to the number of times a president can stand for re-election. The opposition has called for a two-term limit.