Chad started his campaigning on Saturday in support of a new constitution, which would put the 30-year rule of the Itno dynasty and the ruling junta to the test.
General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, the interim president whose junta has been in power since 2021, had pledged to transfer power to civilians and hold elections this year, but he later decided to push them back to 2024.
A crucial step towards the elections and establishment of civilian rule is the referendum scheduled for December 17, which will see over 8.3 million people in the vast but impoverished country of Sahel cast their ballots.
After his father, Idriss Deby Itno, enjoyed three decades of absolute power, the opposition, non-governmental organizations, and political scientists predict that the election will be about upholding Itno and his family’s “dynasty.”
Prime Minister Saleh Kebzazo, the chairman of the pro-junta “Yes” coalition, urged attendees to “propagate the values of a highly decentralised unitary state” at the coalition’s campaign launch conference on Saturday.
Voters are being urged by proponents of a federal state to cast “no” votes in opposition to this text.
“Beyond what form the state takes, the main issue is to allow power to test its popularity and its legitimacy, which will be determined by the turnout rate,” Issa Job, professor of law at the University of N’Djamena, told AFP.
“The form of the state is not the priority,” added Enock Djondang, former chairman of the Chadian League for Human Rights (LTDH).
“All those who reject this regime can only vote against what he proposes.”
The previous proposed constitution, which placed a great deal of power in the hands of the head of state, is not very different from the new one.
While opponents favor a federal model, the pro-junta “Yes” camp is in favor of a unitary state.
The most extreme opposition groups demand that a “masquerade” be boycotted; some of their leaders have been exiled since the brutal suppression of a demonstration on October 20, 2022.
The Consultation Group of Political Actors (GCAP), a platform comprising about 20 parties, claims that what is being suggested is a “solitary electoral process” for the “perpetuation of a dynastic system.”
General Mahamat Deby, 37, was declared president for a transitional period on April 20, 2021, by a junta of 15 generals, following his father’s death while leading troops against rebels.
Upon assuming office, Deby junior pledged to return power to the people and permit “free” elections following an 18-month “transition” period.
In addition, he vowed not to tolerate himself.
However, 18 months later, Mahamat Deby extended the transitional period by two years on the advice of a national dialogue that was boycotted by the majority of the opposition and the most potent rebel groups.
In addition, he gave himself permission to run for president, dressing in civilian clothes instead of his army uniform.
After the transition period was extended, large-scale protests occurred in October of last year. The security forces violently put an end to these protests.
The opposition and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) claim that during protests in the capital N’Djamena and other places, police shot and killed between 100 and 300 people.
According to the authorities, about fifty people died, including six security personnel.
In an indication of the junta’s “desire for national reconciliation,” the government granted amnesty to “all civilians and soldiers” involved in the disturbance on Thursday.
The idea of a general amnesty law intended to “protect from justice the police and soldiers behind the massacre” incited protests from the opposition.
During the past year, all anti-regime demonstrations have been categorically ruled unlawful, with the exception of one that drew prominent opposition figure Succes Masra, who has returned from exile after agreeing to a “reconciliation” agreement with Deby.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed alarm about “attempts to limit political dissidence before the referendum” on October 13.
“Opposition parties and their leaders must feel free to convene and campaign in order for this referendum to have any legitimacy. If not, there is a chance that the referendum will be interpreted as a way to establish the transitional administration as a permanent one.
The 18 million people who make up Chad’s population are split between an arid north where the Muslim population, who have controlled the country for more than 40 years, lives, and a more fertile south where Christians and animists predominate.
According to Transparency International, Chad ranks 167th out of 180 countries in terms of perceived levels of corruption, and it was ranked as the second-lowest country in the world in the UN Human Development Index last year.