Election in Chad is just a box-ticking exercise

Chad is holding elections next month. Picture: AFP

Chad is holding elections next month. Picture: AFP

Published Apr 21, 2024


Dr. Sizo Nkala

After three years of transitional rule, Chad is set to hold elections on May 6 which will usher the country back to civilian rule. The country entered into a transitional period after the death of its long time leader Idriss Deby Itno, who was shot and killed while visiting the soldiers fighting jihadist insurgents in the northern region in April 2021. Deby had ruled the Central African country with an iron fist for 30 years at the time of his death. His son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, a military general who led the General Directorate for the Security of State Institutions, seized power as the leader of the hastily arranged Transitional Military Council (CMT) a day after his death.

The council suspended the constitution, dissolved the government and parliament, and promulgated the transitional charter which was meant to fill the constitutional void the country found itself in. Initially intended to last for 18 months, the CMT’s rule was extended in October 2022 with Mahamat retaining his position as the interim president.

Under Mahamat’s interim presidency, Chad adopted a new constitution in December 2023 which was seen as a stepping stone to the May elections thus bringing the transitional dispensation to an end. The constitution also made it possible for Mahamat to stand as a presidential candidate. Chad’s Constitutional Council announced in February that the country’s elections will be held on May 6. About 10 candidates including President Mahamat and Prime Minister Succes Asra will battle it out for the coveted presidency.

Mahamat was announced by the former ruling party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), as its presidential nominee.

However, it is widely believed that the elections are just a box-ticking exercise to confirm Mahamat’s presidency and return the MPS to the helm of the government.

The National Elections Management Agency (NEMA) which was established by the new constitution and mandated to manage the elections is controlled by people who are loyal to the MPS and Mahamat. Almost all of its 15 commissioners were appointed by Mahamat or by institutions he controlled. Its chairman, Ahmed Bartchiret, is a former member of the ruling party and is a close associate of Deby.

The head of the Constitutional Council which is tasked with adjudicating election disputes is a former minister and spokesperson of the MPS. Moreover, neither the opposition parties nor the civil society organisations have representation in the elections agency or the Constitutional Council. As such, the country is destined for a disputed electoral outcome if the institutions responsible for running the elections are controlled by one of the candidates, and do not enjoy public confidence and trust.

Moreover, some prominent opposition voices with the potential to mount a formidable challenge to Mahamat and the MPS have been eliminated from competing. Shortly, after the announcement of the elections, the leader of the Socialist Party Without Borders (PSF), Yaya Dillo, who was widely perceived as Deby’s main challenger in the elections was killed by the country’s security forces during an alleged shootout at his party’s offices.

The government accused Dillo of attacking the security forces who had his arrest warrant while Dillo’s party has rubbished the government’s claims arguing that their leader was assassinated. Further, the Constitutional Council blocked two main opposition leaders, Ibrahim Koursami and Rakhis Saleh, because their applications had unspecified irregularities. Although Prime Minister Asra has been cleared to contest as one of the opposition candidates, his standing as a genuine opposition leader has been diminished by his decision to join the transitional government in January.

It seems Chad’s elections are just a transparent attempt to sanitise the rule of the military and civilian robes. The elimination of key opposition figures and the military government’s capture of election management institutions means that the outcome of the May elections will not be a reflection of the will of the long-suffering people of Chad. This will add to the groundswell of public discontent and risks plunging the country into political instability in the near future.

The political process unfolding in Chad will have wider regional implications in West and Central Africa, where several countries also have transitional military governments who will be watching closely.

If Chad manages to get the international community to accept the outcome of what is quite frankly a farcical electoral process, the junta leaders in countries like Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Gabon will be emboldened to arrange their own choreographed transitions to civilian rule. This will only reinforce the process of democratic erosion which has reversed Africa’s hard-won democratic gains.

*Dr Nkala is A Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL