Togo's Constitutional Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal filed by opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio, seeking to validate his candidature for the 1 June presidential elections, crushing all hopes for Olympio to run against his long-time opponent and incumbent President Gnassingbe Eyadema.
The Court upheld an earlier decision by Togo's electoral commission that Olympio was ineligible to contest the elections because he lacked a certificate of residency and an up-to-date tax payments receipt. The constitution requires, among other things, a presidential candidate to live in Togo for at least 12 months prior to election date and to have taxable income in the country.
Since falling out with Eyadema in the early 1990s, Olympio has lived in exile in London, Paris or Accra. He returned to Togo on 26 April and declared that he had no taxable revenue in the small West African nation.
Head of the Union of Forces for Change (UFC) party, Olympio is the son of Togo's first president who was killed in a coup d'etat in 1963. He himself has escaped an assassination attempt. In 1998, the only time Olympio participated in presidential elections, he came second to Eyadema winning over 34 percent of the vote.
His supporters on Wednesday attempted to block one of the capital's busiest streets in protest. Others set tyres ablaze and partially burnt down a fuel station. Armed policemen were swiftly deployed to the areas and broke up the unrest.
Before the Court announced its decision, a pamphlet titled 'Everybody must be candidate' circulated around the capital Lome urging the Court to declare Olympio eligible. It threatened those who it said excluded any candidates with death. "The MJDT [Youth Movement for Democracy for Togo] urges the Togolese armed forces to be, for once, at this historic rendez-vous," it said.
Sources in Lome told IRIN that they believed that the MJDT is a break-away faction of an opposition group, the New Popular Dynamic (Nouvelle Dynamique Populaire).
Meanwhile, authorities on Wednesday begun distributing voters cards. However opposition candidate, Edem Kodjo, told IRIN that there were rumors that the distribution of cards did not take place in opposition strongholds.
Kodjo disapproved of the Court's ruling and deplored that Eyadema had gone back on his word that he would not run in 2003. He urged the opposition to present a united candidate against Eyadema, who has been in power since 1967. "If the opposition can present a unique candidate, then we will have good chances of winning," Edem, a former secretary-general of the Organization of Africa Unity, said in Lome.