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Chad prepares to vote in a coup-hit region, wary allies look on

4 min

Chad will hold presidential elections on Monday, making it the first in a string of coup-hit states across Central and West Africa to use the ballot box to try to emerge from years of military rule.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chad's interim President Mahamat Idriss Deby during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, January 24, 2024. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via Reuters 

Chad will hold presidential elections on Monday, making it the first in a string of coup-hit states across Central and West Africa to use the ballot box to try to emerge from years of military rule.

Opposition groups have already cried foul. The candidate widely expected to win is Mahamat Idriss Deby - the man who seized power the day rebels shot and killed his long-ruling father, Idriss Deby, in April 2021.

But Chad's Western allies have largely stayed quiet and kept watch - hoping, analysts say, that at the very least, the vote will deliver a relatively stable state in a region hit by militant violence where Russia is also pushing for influence.

Among those Western countries is Chad's former colonial ruler France which still has war planes and 1,000 troops there, most recently helping Chad and its neighbours combat the Islamist fighters of Boko Haram.

Chad is now the last Sahel country with a substantial French military presence after other junta-led states including neighbouring Niger as well as Burkina Faso and Mali, told Paris and other Western powers to remove their troops and turned to Moscow for backing.

The priorities of regional and Western powers will be to push for stability and shore up their positions in the country, analysts say.

"Chad is just too strategic at the moment for the West to allow Russia to get an opening," Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel programme at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, said.

It is not just strategic in terms of security, but also on the hot-button issue of migration.

Chad has accepted a huge influx of refugees from Sudan, where civil war has created the world's largest displacement crisis. Laessing said some refugees have crossed to Niger, which last year repealed a law aimed at slowing migration to Europe.

"It's another reason for Western countries to keep the relationship with Chad despite the dismal human rights record," he added.

An election win would bolster Deby's credentials as an ally. "Western policy makers can say at least he was elected," Laessing said.

There are fears the turmoil could be testing old ties in the oil-producing country that lies next to the war-torn states of Sudan, Libya and Central African Republic and the economic powerhouse of Nigeria.

Mahamat Idriss Deby, who took on the title of interim president after his takeover, met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris in October last year. He also met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in January.

In April, Chad's air force chief ordered the U.S. to halt activities at an air base near the capital N'Djamena, saying there was a problem with their paperwork.

Weeks later, the U.S. announced a temporary withdrawal of at least some of its troops and said it would continue with a review of security operations after the vote.

PROTESTS, RIVALS, VIOLENCE

Concerns about human rights have also mounted since the younger Deby's takeover.

He initially promised an 18-month transition after his father's death, but his government later adopted resolutions that postponed elections and allowed him to run for president.

The delay triggered protests that security forces violently quelled, killing around 50 civilians.

Opposition figure Yaya Dillo was shot and killed in N'Djamena on Feb. 28, the day the election date was announced. The opposition has called Dillo's death an assassination and forensic experts have said he was likely shot at point-blank range.

Chadian authorities said he was killed during an exchange of fire with security forces who had been sent to detain him for alleged involvement in clashes.

One of Deby's most prominent challengers on Monday will be Succes Masra - a political opponent who spent a year in exile from 2022-2023, then shocked Chadians by agreeing to become Deby's prime minister.

He will also be running against former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacke and seven other candidates, including Lydie Beassemda, the only woman going for the top job.

"Masra's decision ... was a bit surprising, because, during the demonstrations and the deaths, people were saying they wanted change and they saw Succes Masra as the face of change," Babacar Ndiaye, research director at think tank WATHI, said.

Some opposition parties and civil society groups have called for a boycott of the vote, saying Deby and his allies control the main institutions of power and could influence the process.

"This is an election to consecrate the reign of the current leader of the transition," Abderramane Goussoumian, head of the civil society network CSAPR, said.

But for Abakar Moussa Seid, a member of the opposition National Rally for Democracy in Chad party, a boycott would amount to a surrender.

"The only democratic way to end the perpetuation of the power of the Deby dynasty is through the ballot box," he said.

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Below are details of the three main candidates

MAHAMAT IDRISS DEBY

Deby seized power in April 2021, taking the title of interim president after his father, long-standing ruler Idriss Deby, died while fighting rebels.

The younger Deby initially promised to hold an election within 18 months, but his government postponed the polls until 2024 and allowed him to run for president.

A career soldier, Deby was a lieutenant general and head of an elite army unit that served as a presidential guard before his takeover. He fought Boko Haram and other jidhadist groups in Niger and Mali.

He appointed himself a five-star general in December 2021.

The 40-year-old, who is backed by ruling party Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), is widely expected to win the vote.

His campaign programme includes promises to focus on security, strengthen the rule of law and boost electricity production.

SUCCES MASRA

The staunch opponent of Chad's junta surprised many of his supporters by coming back from exile last year and accepting the position of prime minister in the interim government.

He had fled the country after dozens were killed and hundreds injured when security forces cracked down on demonstrations in the capital N'Djamena in October 2022.

In October 2023, authorities agreed to allow him and others who fled to return, in a deal brokered by Democratic Republic of Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi.

Masra, now 40, promised to run a grassroots campaign and to meet Chadians to understand what issues were most important to them.

The only other serious opposition contender, Albert Pahimi Padacke, accused him of collaborating with Deby.

ALBERT PAHIMI PADACKE

Padacke, 57, served as prime minister from 2016 to 2018 and was seen as an ally of the former president Idriss Deby, the interim president's father.

Despite that, Padacke ran against the elder Deby several times. He came second in the 2021 presidential election with 10% of the vote. The election was boycotted by several opposition leaders who said it was rigged.

After Deby's death, the transitional military government named Padacke prime minister but he later resigned in order to pave the way for a new government.

His campaign programme says he wants to bolster security and reform the justice system.

By Mahamat Ramadane and Portia Crowe

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