YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As the people of Togo prepare to vote in a Feb. 22 presidential election February 22, 2019, retired Archbishop Kossi Philippe Fanoko Kpodzro of Lomé has accused the country’s ruling party of always winning through fraud.

“The ruling party specializes in fraud and therefore the electoral rolls, the very proper bodies to proclaim the results are all bought and corrupted and really, we are witnessing a systematically organized injustice. That’s why, this time, I said, it has to change,” he told the Lomé-based online news site, Icilome.com.

The 89-year-old archbishop also said he has opened a bank account to collect funds – he hopes between $5-12 million — that will be used to deploy election monitors across the country.

Kpodzro said since money is used to buy consciences, votes, and the bodies in charge of managing elections, he wanted to open an account, “so that in this account, civil society, opposition figures, Togolese from the outside and from the inside who suffer and who are in love with the truth can make some financial contributions so that we can have our group of observers, which must have the means to carry out their duties.”

The archbishop said these observers will be deployed throughout the country to follow and monitor the elections at all levels “to make sure that through fraud, the election results are not tampered with.”

Kpodzro said similar accounts will be opened in Ghana, Europe and America so that all Togolese and friends of the Togolese people can contribute “so that we can have enough to overcome fatality and continue training the Togolese people on the democratic imperative of alternation of power.”

The archbishop, along with opposition political parties and civil society groups, had initially called for the suspension of the presidential elections, pending electoral reforms. They wanted the reorganization of the Constitutional Court, the establishment of a reliable electoral register and the reorganization of the Independent National Electoral Commission.

In November, the country’s bishops’ conference voiced similar concerns.

“We once again urge the government to carry out, in the best interest of the nation, the reforms necessary to consolidate the electoral framework before the presidential elections of 2020,” the bishops said in a Nov. 21 pastoral letter.

RELATED: Togo bishops call for reform of electoral system ahead of presidential vote

The bishops invited the Togolese government to “review, in a more concerted manner, the composition of the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) and the Constitutional Council to put them above any suspicion of dependence, to revise the Electoral Code, (and) to establish a reliable and credible electoral register,” among other demands.

The validity of elections in Togo have frequently been questionable; resulting in bloody violence.

Experts fear the 2020 vote could also be volatile, after President Faure Gnassingbé ignored large-scale protests calling on him not to seek reelection.

Gnassingbé has been in office since 2005, following the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema. Eyadema had ruled Togo for 38 years, ever since he overthrew the country’s second president, Nicolas Grunitzky, in a coup d’état in 1967.

The president won reelection in 2010 and a third term five years later. However, the opposition claims that he stole the election from opposition leader, Jean Pierre Fabre.

In September 2017, Togo’s 14-party opposition coalition rejected a government bill to restore a two-term presidency that would not be retroactive – allowing Gnassingbé to run again in 2020 and 2025. The bill also grants the president immunity for life “for acts committed during presidential terms.”

RELATED: Togo bishops say clergy can’t be indifferent to nation’s suffering

The opposition boycotted December 2018 elections for the nation’s parliament, which the bishops had asked to be postponed.

Kpodzro said he is on a mission to help the poor and suffering people of Togo, whose futures he said are being ripped apart by an insensitive government determined to maintain its grip on power.

The archbishop said he couldn’t be silent in the face of the people’s misery, and “that is why I cry out the truth, not only against the regime in power, but also against the opposition that has failed to agree [on a single candidate] for the forthcoming presidential election.”

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