LOME, Togo — Togo will vote Saturday in an election that could see its president win a third five-year term, keeping his family in power for nearly 50 years.
President Faure Gnassingbe assumed power in 2005 after his father, who ruled Togo for 38 years, died of a heart attack. He won a flawed and violent election later that year and re-election in 2010.
Last year lawmakers considered a bill that would have reintroduced term limits removed from the constitution in 2002, but it was voted down by members of the president's party, who hold a strong majority.
Opposition candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre of the National Alliance for Change is a strong challenger to Gnassingbe. Fabre is an economist who has led demonstrations demanding political reforms.
"There is social unrest in this country ... but we are convinced that the country has the means to address these social problems if it is well governed," Fabre said Wednesday during a campaign rally.
Fabre has vowed to reform the military, which he says would help achieve reconciliation in Togo.
International rights groups have criticized Gnassingbe's government for using violence against protests. Government soldiers opened fire on demonstrators supporting teacher strikes in March, wounding 30 people and arresting 20, Amnesty International said. One man died after being freed, it said.
In November last year, soldiers used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse thousands demonstrating for term limits in the capital, Lome.
Gnassingbe has campaigned on his accomplishments during his time in office.
"We know your problems and we understand you better than anyone," Gnassingbe said Wednesday.
Gnassingbe's government says it brought the poverty rate down from 61.7 percent in 2006 to 58.7 percent in 2011. New figures will only be available in 2016, but development expert Wanata Agbisso says improvements in health and education have helped reduce poverty.
About 500 international observers will oversee the voting at more than 4,000 polling stations. Some 3.5 million people have registered to vote, representing about half of Togo's population of 6.8 million.