Chad junta chief to contest May 6 presidential vote

By Ali Abba Kaya with Emmanuel Giroud in Libreville
Chad Chad's junta leader Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno took power after his father's death.  By Denis Sassou Gueipeur AFPFile
MAR 2, 2024 LISTEN
Chad's junta leader Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno took power after his father's death. By Denis Sassou Gueipeur (AFP/File)

Chad junta chief Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno said Saturday he would contest a May 6 presidential election, just three days after his chief rival was killed in murky circumstances.

Deby Itno took power in 2021 after his father, veteran leader Idriss Deby Itno, died while fighting rebels. The iron-fisted ruler had led the Sahel country for more than three decades.

"I, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, am a candidate for the 2024 presidential election under the banner of the For a United Chad coalition," he said in a speech.

Deby Itno had been proclaimed transitional president by the junta and had promised a return to civilian rule and elections within 18 months. But he subsequently extended the transition by two years.

The date of the presidential elections was announced on Tuesday, barely two months before the vote.

Deby Itno, 39, is almost certain to win, given that his main challenger has been assassinated and the opposition has been muzzled and repressed.

On Wednesday, Deby Itno's cousin and main political rival, opposition leader Yaya Dillo Djerou, was killed after troops surrounded the office of his Socialist Party Without Borders in the capital N'Djamena.

His party accused soldiers of shooting Dillo dead at point-blank range in an "execution" before the presidential election, in which he planned to challenge Deby.

The government has rejected the accusations, saying Dillo "opposed his arrest" and fired on security forces.

Speaking on Wednesday from the foreign ministry headquarters and surrounded by troops, Deby Itno claimed that when he seized power in 202,1 the army had "saved the country from the abyss and from chaos".

Dressed all in white, he was cheered by hundreds of representatives of the political groups that make up the For a United Chad coalition. The coalition claims it comprises "221 parties".

Rights group Human Rights Watch called on Saturday for a foreign-backed independent investigation into Dillo's killing.

"The killing of a potential presidential candidate during an assault by Chadian security forces on an opposition party headquarters raises serious concerns about the environment for elections scheduled for May 6," HRW said.

"The circumstances of Yaya Dillo's killing are unclear but his violent death highlights the dangers facing opposition politicians in Chad, particularly as elections approach," said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at HRW.

Dillo had told AFP before his death that people wanted to "physically eliminate me" ahead of the vote.