Opposition cries foul over ‘dynastic dictatorship’ as Chad goes to polls

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Chad goes to the polls on Monday in its first presidential election in three decades without Idriss Déby, the former president, in contention.

Ten men will be on the ballot, but Déby’s son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, who seized power at the head of a junta on the day rebels shot and killed his father in April 2021, is widely expected to win.

The election was supposed to take place in October 2022, but Itno opted instead to extend the rule of the junta in the vast central African country. That decision led to protests that security agencies violently repressed, killing dozens in the process.

Among his nine opponents, the closest challenger is his prime minister, Succès Masra, of the Les Transformateurs party. A favourite among young people in Chad, Masra has gone from economist to opposition politician in exile to prime minister in six years. In this electoral cycle, he is gunning to change roles again, by becoming the first civilian to unseat an incumbent head of state. That journey has incurred the ire of some in civil society who see him as a sellout and the latest politician to be co-opted by the Déby dynasty.

Nonetheless, analysts say his participation is a win for the regime.

Ulf Laessing, the Mali-based head of the Sahel programme at the German thinktank Konrad Adenauer Foundation, said: “From the government point of view, now they can say: ‘Why all this criticism? We have a president, we have a prime minister, they’re running against each other. We have a real election campaign.’ So, in a way it gives an appearance of a real fair election.”

Scepticism about the electoral process has precedence: there has never been a peaceful nor transparent transition of power in Chad since independence from France in 1960.

In February, Yaya Dillo, an opposition leader seen as the biggest electoral threat to Itno, was killed after a bizarre duel at his party headquarters with security agents. His death “highlights the dangers facing opposition politicians in Chad, particularly as elections approach”, said Lewis Mudge, Human Rights Watch’s central Africa director.

The electoral commission has said it will take two weeks for provisional results to be released and another two weeks for the final results to be announced. This unusual timeline has increased suspicion within the opposition’s ranks.

Approximately 8.2 million people, half of the population of Chad, are registered for Monday’s vote. The registry is the same as was used during last year’s constitutional referendum, which affirmed the existing unitary system of government. The registry excludes potential first-time voters who turned 18 – the eligible voting age – after the referendum.

Another former premier, Albert Padacké, who has run for the presidency three times, was disqualified along with nine others including Lydie Beassemda, the only female candidate. The disqualifications led opposition parties to call for a boycott and protests. Wakit Tamma, an alliance of civil society and opposition, has said the election is an extension of a “dynastic dictatorship”.

To many Chadians, the election is just another day in the life. For several weeks, electricity has been more stop-start than usual and food inflation is high. Outside the capital, N’Djamena, there is scant development.

“People in Chad are experiencing a dire situation economically … people don’t feel very confident in the political system,” said Remadji Hoinathy, an N’Djamena-based researcher with the Institute for Security Studies thinktank. “But at the same time we see that paradoxically, there have been a lot of people mobilised on the streets and during different campaign meetings.”

About 1.1 million refugees are scattered around the country, having sought sanctuary in recent years from conflicts in neighbouring countries, most notably Sudan.

The refugee inflows have made Chad’s stability in a volatile region a matter of importance to the international community, especially with Russian paramilitaries present in nearby Libya, Sudan, Niger and Central African Republic.

“That’s why you hear so little criticism from western governments about this rather undemocratic system,” said Laessing. “Everybody hopes it will just stay this way. Déby [Itno] gets elected, and then it’s business as usual and Chad stays stable and doesn’t have these major security issues like in Niger, Mali or Burkina.”

Source: theguardian.com

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