by James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - Voters in Togo went to the polls on Saturday in an election in which incumbent President Faure Gnassingbe is the forerunner.
There are 3.5 million eligible voters in the West African nation, according to the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI).
Provisional results are expected in six days.
Gnassingbe, who has led the country for the last 15 years, faces six rivals from a divided opposition.
The 53-year-old assumed power in 2005 after the death of his father, Eyadema Gnassingbe, who led the country for 38 years following a 1967 coup.
The ruling party Union for the Republic (UNIR) has pledged to create 500,000 jobs across the country by 2022 if re-elected.
The opposition favorite candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre, a former journalist and human rights campaigner, has campaigned on a promise of restoring democracy and fuel development.
Campaigning ended on Thursday, two days ahead of the polls.
Fabre, 68, president of National Alliance for Change (ANC), was the runner-up in the 2010 and 2015 elections. He led the protests that forced reforms on term limits for the presidency.
Political commentators expect Gnassingbe to win the election outright in the first round.
Part of last year’s reforms requires 50%+ for a winner to emerge, otherwise a runoff between the two top candidates would be held next month.
The election follows constitutional changes last year -- prompted by protests in 2017 and 2018 -- which limits presidents to two five-year terms.
Previously, there were no term limits.
Gnassingbe is now contesting for the first of two constitutionally mandated five-year terms.
He withstood the 2017 demonstrations calling for a two-term limit of the presidency to be applied retroactively.
Gnassingbe has promised to push ahead with reforms that helped achieve the country’s annual economic growth of around 5% in recent years.
The head of the National Independent Electoral Commission, Tchambakou Ayassor, said Friday votes will have to be counted manually because of fears the electronic vote-counting system had been hacked.