No contest for Togo's general

THE PIONEER of military coups d'etat in black Africa, Gnassingbe Eyadema, headed for victory in Togo's first presidential elections yesterday after the main opposition candidates were disqualified or boycotted the contest, writes Karl Maier.

German and United States observers, led by the former president Jimmy Carter, quit the tiny West African country of 3.6 million people after declaring there was no point in monitoring an election that only one serious candidate was contesting. Monitors from France and Burkina Faso decided to stay on.

The Foreign Minister, Ouattara Fambare Natchaba, said yesterday that security forces had arrested two of four plotters who he said infiltrated from Ghana overnight and were planning a coup. In a statement, Mr Natchaba said papers found on one of the men detailed plans for attacks on various sites to overthrow General Eyadema and proclaim a new regime.

As the polls opened early yesterday in Lome, the capital, many voters appeared to heed a call by the main opposition alliance, the Collective of Democratic Opposition (COD 2), to boycott the election.

Gen Eyadema, 56, overthrew the elected president, Sylvanus Olympio, in January 1963, in independent sub-Saharan Africa's first coup, and handed over to a civilian government that he ousted four years later. His rule went largely unchallenged until a pro-democracy movement began stirring in the late 1980s.

Three years ago, he was forced to agree to multi-party reforms, but almost immediately he and his army resisted the transition to democracy at each step. In extraordinary displays of courage, unarmed crowds demonstrating in favour of democracy forced the army back into its barracks.

Since then, however, President Eyadema has used threat and manipulation to remain in power. Sylvanus Olympio's son, Gilchrist, emerged as a leading opponent until he was badly wounded in an assassination attempt by troops loyal to Gen Eyadema, according to an international inquiry. The Supreme Court barred Gilchrist from standing in yesterday's election because his medical papers were not in order.

The General's main challenger, the COD 2 candidate, Edem Kodjo, a former secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity, pulled out of the polls on Monday amid opposition charges that voters' registry was padded by at least 600,000 people, some children and some long dead. Yaovi Abgoyibo, of the Action Committee for Renewal, also withdrew.