Vote count underway in junta-led Chad in a first for coup-hit regionMon, 06 May 2024 18:04:38 GMT

Counting was underway Monday evening after Chadians voted in a presidential election to end three years of military rule that opponents of junta leader Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno have dismissed as a fix.Several polling stations remained opened late in the capital N’Djamena, but with most closed counting got underway, AFP journalists reported.At a small polling centre in the capital’s Chagou district, a vote assessor broke the seal on a ballot box and took out voting slips one by one, reading out aloud to observers.Chagou is a stronghold of candidate and prime minister Succes Masra and without surprise his name was well ahead of rivals in the count there.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 Masra, denounced as a stooge by critics in the absence of other serious challengers.Both men have vowed a first-round win in polls that international rights groups have warned will be neither free nor fair.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.”I’ve come here today to make my choice now, to take on 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 has been killed and others banned from standing.However, economist Masra, also aged 40, has ramped up considerable support on the stump in recent weeks and could force a second round.- 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 after 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.Eight other candidates are not expected to win many votes.- 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 “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.ICG also cited Chad’s Constitutional Council excluding 10 rival candidates from the vote in Deby strongholds.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. More than 8.2 million people are registered to vote in the largely desert central African nation, 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.