( AFP ) - The people of Togo will go to the polls Sunday to choose members of parliament in elections where all the main political parties are represented, including Gilchrist Olympio's Union of Forces for Change.
After almost two decades of election boycotts, this is the first time that Olympio's UFC is challenging the ruling Rally of Togolese People (RPT).
The poll will test both the ruling party's grip on power and whether the west African country gets aid from the European Union after a 14-year suspension.
The EU has put strong pressure on all sides in the small nation to abide by political protocols hammered out in lengthy round-table talks, and has already deployed a large observer team to monitor whether the vote is free and fair.
Around three million voters were expected to turn out betwen 7:00 am and 5:00 pm (both local time and GMT) in some 5,900 voting stations across the country.
A total of 2,100 candidates, either representing one of the country's 32 political parties or running as independents, are in the running to get one of the 81 seats.
The security forces voted Thursday to free them up to supervise civilian voting on Sunday. Their votes will be counted on Sunday after everyone else has finished voting.
Preliminary results will be made public several days after the vote, according to the Independent Electoral Commission, the body whose job it is to organize the election.
The ruling RPT has based its campaign message on what President Faure Gnassingbe has achieved in two years in office in the way of reconciliation and smoother relations between the ruling party and the opposition.
Gnassingbe was first put in power by the military in April 2005 following the death of his father, veteran strongman Gnassingbe Eyadema, but the army backed down under national and regional pressure.
The young leader stood down and two months later won an election that again was boycotted by the opposition, but in the two years since his government has managed to break a long-standing political deadlock.
Many observers however think the RPT will not have an easy time Sunday given that all the opposition heavyweights are in the running.
In order to unlock EU aid, suspended for the past 14 years, Gnassingbe's regime needs to ensure that all the registered voters get a fair chance to pick the candidate of their choice.