July 19, 2024

Chad’s election on May 6 appears to offer voters a choice. But it’s been masterminded, analysts say, to produce a single outcome: to rubber-stamp the rule of the incumbent, Mahamat Idriss Déby, who is seeking to transform himself from military leader to civilian president.

Mr. Déby seized power three years ago after his father, Idriss Déby, who ruled Chad with an iron fist for three decades, was killed — apparently on the battlefield, fighting rebels trying to overthrow his government. His son’s succession to the presidency was a clear violation of the country’s Constitution.

Chad is a landlocked, arid country of 18 million people in Central Africa. Despite its wealth of natural resources, it is one of the world’s poorest nations.

Nevertheless, it is sheltering hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war in neighboring Sudan.

Chad is also part of a belt of African countries to have experienced coups in the past four years, stretching from coast to coast.

And it’s the first of the junta-led countries to hold an election. Mali’s government keeps delaying its promised vote. Last year Burkina Faso’s military president, Ibrahim Traore, indefinitely postponed an election planned for July 2024, saying it was “not a priority.” There is no end in sight for Guinea’s supposedly transitional government.

Chad has built a reputation as a dependable security partner for Western countries in their fight against Islamist militants, at a time when other countries are pushing out Western allies. It’s hosting hundreds of French troops after they were kicked out of neighboring Niger, and some American ones.

But some American troops are leaving after a letter from Chad’s Air Force chief ordered them to stop activities on an air base in the capital, Ndjamena, U.S. officials said recently — at least until after the election.

Mr. Déby — known by his nickname, Kaka — was supposed to be an interim leader, and promised not to run — but he’s at the top of the ballot. He is a four-star general who trained in Chad and France, and has three wives and many children.

His prime minister, Succès Masra, is also a candidate. Mr. Masra used to be the country’s best-known opposition leader and was living in exile until last year. But then he returned, made a deal with Mr. Déby and, since January, has led his government. Mr. Masra used to have considerable support but now many Chadians view him as a sellout.

Eight other candidates have been approved to run — but two key opposition leaders, Nassour Ibrahim Neguy Koursami and Rakhis Ahmat Saleh, were barred after the country’s constitutional council said there were “irregularities,” including allegations of forgery by Mr. Koursami. But most observers said they thought the council’s findings were politically motivated.

The other name absent from the ballot is that of Yaya Dillo, who had been the foremost opposition leader. In February, he was shot dead by security forces at his party’s headquarters — an assassination, his party said. Before that, dozens of protesters were killed in pro-democracy rallies.

About a week after the election. If it goes to a runoff, that is to be held on June 22.

There has never been a free and fair election in Chad, and this one looks set to continue in that tradition. Analysts say the only path to Mr. Deby’s losing power is through a coup d’état.

But even if he wins the vote, don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s popular, said Lynda Iroulo, a scholar of international relations at Georgetown University in Qatar. Despite a conspicuous absence of elections, she said the juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger enjoy considerably more popularity than Chad’s.

“Most of them have had some level of mass support,” she said, largely because they are trying to “cut off the French influence in their countries.”

Thousands of people have rallied in support of the juntas in each country. Not so in Chad. Nevertheless, Mr. Déby has made sure that no candidate with enough support to defeat him will participate.

“My whole life, I haven’t seen any change occurring,” said Julia Bealoum, a student in Ndjamena. “I think things will continue as before.”

Chad has not faced the same wave of international condemnation that followed the coups and democratic backsliding in other African countries. The African Union did not suspend Chad’s membership after the coup, or when Mr. Déby backtracked on his pledge not to run. When Mr. Dillo — the opposition leader — was killed, the United States and France said nothing.

President Emmanuel Macron of France even sent his special envoy to Ndjamena 10 days after Mr. Dillo’s death, to offer his “admiration” for the electoral process.

It was a far cry from the condemnation that met the coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger — or their juntas’ subsequent failure to hold elections.

Many voters in Chad feel that Western countries call the shots, and are highly critical of France despite the two governments’ close relationship.

“I don’t think it’s possible for a country like Chad to organize a transparent election, because we are ruled by Western powers, especially France, who just look after their own interests,” said Richard Djitaingar, the owner of a small cellphone shop in Ndjamena.

U.S. to Withdraw Troops From Chad, Dealing Another Blow to Africa Policy

Opposition Leader in Chad Is Killed in a Shootout Months Before Elections

Talking Peace in Sudan, the U.A.E. Secretly Fuels the Fight

Security Forces Open Fire on Protesters in Chad, Killing at Least 50

Mahamat Adamou contributed reporting from Ndjamena, Chad.

#Chad #Election

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