Junta-led Chad counts votes in first for coup-hit regionMon, 06 May 2024 22:24:39 GMT

Chad started counting votes on Monday evening in a presidential election aimed at ending three years of military rule that opponents of junta leader Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno have dismissed as fixed.The vote will decide whether to extend three decades of Deby family rule, in a country crucial to the fight against jihadism across the Sahel desert region.Chad is the first of four military regimes in the Sahel to hold an election after successive coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger since 2020.Deby’s main rival is former opposition leader Succes Masra, denounced as a stooge by critics in the absence of other serious challengers.Both men have predicted a first-round win in polls that international rights groups have warned will be neither free nor fair, with Deby’s main rival dead and others banished.Officials opened ballot boxes and started counting with most voting stations closed on Monday evening, AFP reporters saw, after voters earlier queued up to cast their ballots.”I’ve come here today… to pick a good president who can change the country now and even help young people to evolve,” said Angeline Goltoua, an unemployed 24-year-old.Early in the campaign, observers predicted a massive win for Deby, 40, whose main rival was killed, with others banned from standing.However, his rival Masra, also aged 40, has ramped up considerable support on the stump in recent weeks and could force a second round.”I want change in my country. The country has been through a lot,” said Elia Torndoumbay, 37, an unemployed nurse voting in N’Djamena.”I want this day to dawn and the sun to set so that justice and equality reign in my country.”A 65-year-old man was shot dead after voting in the southern city of Moundou by an unknown attacker who did not have an electoral card and was barred from voting, electoral officials said.- Proclaimed by generals -Masra urged supporters to vote “in massive numbers” and for “massive change” after casting his ballot.Surrounded by armed presidential guards, Deby declared his “commitment” to a “return to the constitutional order” after voting.He was proclaimed transitional president by 15 generals in 2021 after his father, Idriss Deby Itno, was killed in a gun battle with rebels following 30 years in power.Known as MIDI for his initials and as “the Man in Dark Glasses”, Mahamat promised an 18-month transition to democracy but then extended it by two years.Opposition figures have since fled, been silenced or joined forces with Deby, while the junta has eliminated any attempts by civil society to campaign against it.On October 20, 2022, the army and police opened fire on demonstrators protesting the transition extension, including members of Masra’s party, The Transformers.At least 300 young people died according to international NGOs, or, according to the regime, about 50.Deby’s cousin and chief election rival Yaya Dillo Djerou was shot point-blank in the head in an army assault on February 28, according to his party.Masra was among the opponents driven out of the country but later returned and was named prime minister in January.- Not ‘free or democratic’ -The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has warned the election appears “neither credible, free nor democratic”.The International Crisis Group (ICG) also noted that “a number of problems in the run-up to the balloting cast doubt on its credibility”.These include measures allowing officials to publish only regional vote tallies rather than posting the results at individual polling stations — making it impossible for observers to verify the count.As for Masra, it said: “A significant proportion of his constituency now considers him to have become a stooge of those in power.”If Masra wins the election, it could be the first peaceful handover of power in Chad, which underwent several coups even before Deby’s father seized power in 1990. The largely desert central African nation is ranked by the United Nations as the fourth least-developed country in the world.With a third of the population aged between 10 and 24, many are voting for the first time.Results are expected on May 21 with a possible second round on June 22.