Togo’s parliament has approved a constitutional change allowing President Faure Gnassingbe, whose family has ruled the small West African country since 1967, to run two more times and potentially remain in power until 2030.
The constitutional change also includes a lifetime immunity for ex-presidents.
In 2005, Gnassingbe succeeded his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who seized power in a coup more than 50 years ago and ruled with an iron fist till his death.
All 90 lawmakers present voted late Wednesday to approve the change. One other lawmaker was absent.
The new law now caps presidents to serving two terms, but also means Gnassingbe can stand for the next two elections, in 2020 and 2025, as it does not apply retrospectively.
“The President of the Republic is elected by universal suffrage…for a term of five years, renewable once,” the new text of the constitution read, which also made the presidential election a two-round race.
Another article now gives immunity for life to former presidents, who cannot be “prosecuted, arrested, detained, or tried for acts committed during their presidential term”.
Gnassingbe’s party hold two-thirds of the seats in parliament, but other parties are also close to the president. The main opposition boycotted elections last year.
In Togo, constitutional changes are adopted if four-fifths of lawmakers—73 or more—vote for it.
Lawmakers also changed the rules for their own mandate, meaning they can now hold their seats for two terms of six years each.
Before, they had a mandate of five years but with an unlimited number of terms.
The opposition opposed the reforms, and last year, demonstrators demanded Gnassingbe step down during dozens of marches.
But the 14-party opposition coalition refused to take part in December elections, condemning the playing field as skewed, leaving parliament in the hands of Gnassingbe’s party.
Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson, coordinator of the opposition coalition, said she was “shocked” by the changes.
“He has showed the Togolese people that the only thing that worries him is to stay in power,” she told reporters on Thursday in Lome.
Togo, a country the size of Croatia sandwiched between Ghana and Benin, becomes the latest in several African nations to change the constitution to extend presidential terms.
Separately, Togo’s government on Thursday also announced that local council elections will be held on June 30, the first time elections for the 1,527 positions have been held since 1987.
The mayoral post is appointed directly by the national president.