The Togolese people have gone to the polls to decide whether to give Faure Gnassingbe a third term. The president faced a divided opposition in voting already delayed to make late changes to how results are tallied.
Oddsmakers and commentators expected Togo's presidential incumbent, Faure Gnassingbe, to win a third term in office and extend his family's grip on power into a second half-century after Saturday's single-round election. Campaigning went largely peacefully, with no signs of the tensions that led to violence in 2005, when at least 500 died and thousands were injured after the election.
The 48-year-old president called on people in the West African nation of just under 7 million to "vote in peace." The president's autocratic father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died of a heart attack in 2005, had seen Togo placed under sanctions by the European Union and other international bodies because of rights violations.
Up to 3.5 million voters were eligible to choose from Gnassingbe and four challengers. Jean-Pierre Fabre, who took second place in the 2010 vote with 34 percent, is running as the opposition's consensus candidate. Rivals say Togo needs new leadership after 48 years with Gnassingbe's family in charge and had previously tried to chip away at the president's power in the 2013 legislative elections.
Early results could come Sunday. The provisional count would be expected by the end of the month. Gnassingbe's mandate ends May 3.
'Candidates have spoken'
Last year, lawmakers failed to pass a bill limiting presidents to two terms. Should he get a third mandate, Gnassingbe has said he would ease poverty by pursuing the infrastructure-driven economic growth he has overseen since the violence that followed the 2005 elections. Campaign slogans, dominated by puns using his first name, Faure - similar to the French for "strong" - pledge more schools, roads and opportunities in the transport and services hub he has tried to establish.
The opposition has alleged inaccuracy-riddled voter rolls that might favor Gnassingbe, expressing fears that an electronic system could facilitate rigging in an election delayed for 10 days. Fabre's camp has refused to accept results from the electronic system, warning that it might lead to an uprising.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the Togolese people to make challenges in the courts - not on the streets. Togo's government deployed 9,000 security personnel nationwide on Saturday.
mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)