Togo’s parliament has approved a constitutional change permitting long-standing President Faure Gnassingbe to potentially stay in office until 2030, despite widespread protests calling for the end of his family’s decades-long grip on power.
The amendment caps the presidential mandate to two five-year terms but does not apply retrospectively, meaning Gnassingbe can stand for the next two elections, in 2020 and 2025, despite having already served three terms since succeeding his late father 14 years ago.
“The president of the republic is elected by universal suffrage … for a term of five years, renewable once,” the new text of the Constitution read, which also made the presidential election a two-round race.
The amendment was signed off on by all 90 legislators present on Wednesday, surpassing the required four-fifths approval by parliament to make such changes. One other legislator was absent.
Another change passed by the National Assembly guaranteed immunity for life to all former presidents, who the new constitutional terms said cannot be “prosecuted, arrested, detained, or tried for acts committed during their presidential term”.
Gnassingbe’s Union for the Republic party holds two-thirds of the seats in parliament. The main opposition boycotted legislative elections in December, in part because of the dispute over term limits, leaving them without seats in parliament and powerless to vote against the amendments.
Legislators also changed the rules for their own mandate, meaning they can now hold their seats for two terms of six years each. Before, they had a mandate of five years but with an unlimited number of terms.
Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson, coordinator of the opposition coalition, said she was “shocked” by the changes.
“He (Gnassingbe) has showed the Togolese people that the only thing that worries him is to stay in power,” she told reporters on Thursday in the capital, Lome.
Deadly clashes erupted over the proposed constitutional changes in 2017 after security forces cracked down on demonstrators calling for Gnassingbe’s resignation – echoing a mass movement against his first appointment in 2005 during which at least 500 people were killed.
Opponents of the president, whose father seized power in a 1967 coup, have sought term limits and other constitutional reforms since then to align the former French colony with most of its West African neighbors.