Togolese presidential candidate Leopold Gnininvi dropped out of Togo's presidential election on Monday saying he wanted to unite the divided opposition to President Gnassingbe Eyadema behind the rival candidature of Emmanuel Bob-Akitani.
Bob-Akitani is the candidate backed by Togo's most prominent opposition party, the Union of Forces For Change, led by Gilchrist Olympio. Olympio himself was banned from standing against Eyadema in the 1 June election on the grounds of technical irregularities in his nomination papers. Bob-Akitani is the party's vice-president.
Olympio, who came second to Eyadema in the last presidential election in 1998, has thrown his weight behind Bob-Akitani.
Eyadema has ruled this former French colony with an iron hand since coming to power in a coup 36 years ago. He is Africa's longest serving head of state. The constitution was ammended in December 2002 to allow Eyadema to stand for a further five year term. Gnininvi's withdrawal leaves Bob-Akitani and four other opposition candidates standing against him.
Gnininvi, a 61-year-old physicist and expert on solar energy, had been widely viewed as one of the most popular opposition presidential candidates.However, Gnininvi said that he was standing down for three reasons: he had already managed to mobilise his own electorate during the first 10 days of the campaign, Bob-Akitani had emerged as the most popular challenger to Eyadema and he did not wish to divide the opposition.
Bob-Akitani has promised to give Olympio, who has lived in exile in France and Ghana since 1993, a prominent but unspecified position in government if he wins. Olympio is the son of Togo's first president, Sylvanus Olympio, who was assassinated in 1963.