Chad awaits results from referendum hoped to chart path for civilian rule

DEC 22, 2023 LISTEN

As Chad awaits the provisional results of last Sunday's referendum on a new constitution, the transitional government and its opponents have been exchanging claims and counter-claims over how many voters participated across the country, following opposition calls for a boycott of the polls.  

Official provisional figures for the constitutional referendum are due to be announced on Sunday, a week after the 17 December vote.

The constitutional referendum was promised by the ruling military junta, but opposed by opposition politicians.

There appears to be little doubt that it will be approved, which would pave the way for elections and the return of civilian rule that was promised – then postponed – by the military.

However, a large section of the Chadian opposition and civil society called for a boycott of last Sunday's vote. 

They argue the vote was designed to pave the way for the election of the current transitional president, General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, and the continuation of a "dynasty" begun by his late father 33 years ago following a coup.

Concentration of power

The "yes" camp seems assured of victory after a well-financed campaign by the ruling junta against a divided opposition, whose members have faced arrest, intimidation and threats for more than a year.

During the vote, security forces were reportedly well-positioned around the capital N'Djamena, where walls were plastered with posters championing a "yes" vote to bring in a constitution for a "unitary and decentralised state". 

There have also been accusations of the widespread stuffing of ballot boxes to secure a "yes" victory for the junta. 

The text proposed is not very different from the constitution that the military repealed in 2021, enshrining a regime in which most of the power is concentrated in the head of state.

The "yes" camp argue that the federalism sought by opposition groups would encourage "separatism" and "chaos". 

Turnout disputed

The key issue of turnout was the subject of much debate in the days following the vote, with the opposition insisting that many heeded their calls to stay away.

"The severe boycott that we advocated has been widely followed," claimed Yaya Dillo of the Federation of the Credible Opposition, who called the abstentions "a fiasco for the unitary state project". 

According to journalists on the ground, voting in the capital appeared limited by midday last Sunday.

However, the head of the body organising the referendum, Limane Mahamat, maintained that as Sunday was a day of worship, more people would head to polling stations later in the day.

The Observatory of Associations for the Electoral Process (OAPET) backed up that assessment, saying "low turnout at the opening saw an improvement during the day".

But local media reported a high abstention rate – particularly in the capital, N'Djamena.

Chad's Minister for Regional Planning, Mahamat Assileck Halata, insisted the capital did not represent the rest of the country: "To be clear, in N'Djamena this [abstention] was observed, but on the other hand in the provinces people voted massively."

'Déby dynasty'

The two main groupings opposing the junta hope low turnout will discredit a leader they accuse of perpetuating the "Déby dynasty".

Prominent opposition figure Max Loalngar, coordinator of the Wakit Tamma group, told French news agency AFP that the referendum was "purely and simply legitimising the dynasty that they want to impose on us".

Mahamat Idriss Déby, then 37, was proclaimed transitional president by the army in April 2021, after his father Idriss Déby Itno was killed by rebels on his way to the front line. 

Déby senior had ruled Chad with an iron fist for more than 30 years.

His son promised elections after a transition period of 18 months, but his regime later extended the transition by two years and authorised him to run in a presidential election now scheduled for late 2024.

(with AFP)