LOME - Opposition groups in Togo are resisting a constitutional amendment that could extend President Faure Gnassingbe’s stay in power for another decade. Gnassingbe, 57, became Togo’s leader in 2005 following the death of his father, who had ruled since a 1967 coup.

Gnassingbe proposed changing Togo from a presidential to parliamentary system of government.

It would see the transfer of executive power to a “president of the council of ministers,” effectively a prime minister. The change was adopted by 89 out of 91 lawmakers.

Gnassingbe has many allies in parliament because opposition parties have boycotted past elections.

The prime minister would be the lawmaker leading the majority party in parliament. They would serve a six-year tenure.

The president would be a figurehead elected by parliament, no longer by Togolese voters, for a maximum six-year term.

Brigitte Kafui Johnson, a former presidential candidate who leads an opposition party, called the proposal a “power grab” by the incumbent leader.

Critics say the change would enable Gnassingbe to be elected for another presidential term next February, after the end of his current term which he won in a 2020 election.

He could relinquish that role after his term ends to become prime minister.

It is the latest “undemocratic move” that could fuel tensions and “further [jeopardize] Togo’s fragile social unity,” said Komlan Avoulete, a Sahel researcher at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a U.S. think tank. Coups in West and Central Africa have also highlighted the fragility of some regimes in the subregion.

Parliamentary elections due to be held this week were postponed to April 29, as the presidency said it would seek further consultations on the proposal.

Meanwhile, security forces have broken up opposition group gatherings against the amendment, and the government has banned protests.

'Don't Touch My Constitution'

Pro-government lawmakers have conducted visits around the country to "listen to and inform civilians on the constitutional reform".

Customary rulers and selected groups were among the main target of the discussions - but no changes were made as a result.

There is widespread fear among people about expressing views in public in case they are targeted by the authorities, especially in light of police cracking down on anti-government protests.

Last month, an opposition press conference under the banner of "Don't Touch My Constitution" was broken up by authorities.

Gerry Taama, the leader of the second-largest opposition party, the New Togolese Commitment, said he feels "disappointed with what is happening".

'Not going to accept this'

One-time presidential candidate Brigitte Kafui Johnson, who leads the opposition CDPA party, described the constitutional amendments as a "power grab".

In contrast, those supporting the constitutional changes argue they will strengthen democracy and improve political stability. "The aspirations of our people are not served by the current constitution," said Pacôme Adjourouvi, an adviser to the president.

Activists and opposition leaders had called for protests - but these were banned.

Amid the turmoil, Mr Gnassingbé postponed this month's parliamentary elections, a move that only served to stir up the unrest.

Then the government announced that the elections would go ahead after all, rescheduling them for 29 April, just over a week later than the original date.

The opposition insist they will not back down until the changes are withdrawn.

"We're not going to accept this, and we will fight against this constitution," said Brigitte Kafui Johnson.