A change in Togo’s law voted through on Thursday would allow longstanding President Faure Gnassingbe to stay in power potentially until 2030, extending his family’s rule in the West African country to 63 years despite widespread protests.
The constitutional change caps the presidential mandate to two five-year terms, ostensibly in response to calls from the opposition and street protestors for an end to a political dynasty that started when Gnassingbe’s father seized power in a 1967 coup.
But the law does not take into account the three terms Gnassingbe has already served since succeeding his late father in 2005, the latest of which ends next year.
“The National Assembly has decided to transform Togolese citizens into subjects of his majesty Gnassingbe,” said opposition member Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson in a statement in which she called for all opponents to unite.
The law was passed overnight after 90 out of 91 members of parliament voted in favour of the reform.
The opposition boycotted legislative elections in December, in part because of the dispute over term limits, leaving them without parliamentary seats and powerless to vote against the law.
However, passage of the law is likely to spark protests.
Deadly clashes erupted over the proposed change in 2017 after security forces cracked down on demonstrators calling for Gnassingbe’s resignation – echoing a mass movement against his first appointment in 2005 during which at least 500 people were killed.
Gnassingbe’s opponents have been seeking term limits and other constitutional reforms since then to align the former French colony with most of its West African neighbours.
While several African countries have shown a desire to break free from the long rule of many post-colonial leaders, change has been slow to come. Chad reinstated presidential term limits last year. But they would still allow President Idriss Deby to sit in power until 2033, when he will be 81 and will have been in power for 43 years.