Togo opposition leader disputes vote results, says 'I'm president'

LOME (AFP) - Togo's opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre on Wednesday claimed he had won a weekend presidential vote, despite the electoral commission pronouncing victory for incumbent Faure Gnassingbe.

Fabre denounced the results as "fraudulent" and a "crime against national sovereignty" after the electoral commission said he won 34.95 percent of the vote against Gnassingbe's 58.75 percent.

His party, the Combat for Political Change (CAP 2015), said it "categorically" rejected the results, asserting that they bore "no resemblance to those compiled from reports collected in polling stations by its representatives".

Fabre was asked whether he considered himself the new president of Togo and he replied: "Of course!"

The opposition leader went into Saturday's election looking to prevent Gnassingbe from securing a third term of office and end his family's nearly 50-year grip on power of the tiny west African nation.

Gnassingbe's father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, seized power in a coup and ruled with an iron fist for 38 years over the former German- and French-administered colony until his death in 2005.

- Call to protest -

The election results, announced on Tuesday, are provisional and still subject to confirmation by the Constitutional Court, electoral commission chief Taffa Tabiou said.

But outside the headquarters of the ruling party, about 50 of Gnassingbe's supporters danced to campaign songs late at night shortly after the results were announced.

"It is the victory of the Togolese people who want, with the president Faure Gnassingbe, to continue advancing toward progress and in peace," the presidency said.

CAP 2015's campaign director Patrick Lawson-Banku, however, called for people to turn out in force "using all legal means to ensure that this latest takeover fails".

"The right to protest is prescribed by law. There is no need for permission to demonstate," he told a news conference in the capital Lome on Wednesday.

Fabre came out on top in Lome, which historically goes to the opposition, despite gains by Faure.

Voter turnout was low, with about 40 percent of people staying at home against 35 percent in the previous presidential election in 2010.

As expected, Gnassingbe was boosted by overwhelming support from the north of the country, a family stronghold and bastion of the military.

- 'Obstructionist strategy' -

The European Union, Togo's leading international lender, said Tuesday the election "went off calmly, confirming the Togolese people's attachment to democracy".

The African Union and regional bloc ECOWAS also said the vote was free and transparent.

But despite that there were still opposition claims that the government had engaged in election fraud to try to cling to power.

Fabre had earlier told AFP he would "leave the CENI (Independent National Electoral Commission) to do its work".

Fears of ballot rigging -- including ghost voters on the electoral roll -- forced a 10-day postponement to the election, although the opposition later declared itself satisfied with changes made.

Political analyst David Ihou expressed surprise about the accusations, saying "all records" of the polling stations had been signed by representatives of each candidate.

He also criticised what he said was "an obstructionist strategy" by the opposition.

The run-up to the vote was dominated by opposition calls for a change in the constitution to limit the number of terms a president can serve.

Currently there are no limits but the opposition wants to set a cap at two.

Elections in 2005 -- held after Gnassingbe Eyadema's death -- were marred by allegations of rigging as well as violence, which left up to 500 people dead and thousands injured, according to the UN.

Faure Gnassingbe defeated Fabre again five years later. The opposition again disputed the result but it was judged acceptable by the international community.