Incumbent president Idriss Déby in power since 1990 has been reelected for a fifth mandate, running against 13 other candidates. He won 61,56 % in the first round of the presidential election on April 10, according to preliminary results published by the election commission on April 21 that have to be validated by the constitutional court. The runner-up, opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo, won 12,80 % and Laoukein Kourayo Médard, mayor of Chad’s economic capital Moundou, won 10,69 % of the votes. Turn-out among Chad’s six million voters was an estimated 71 %.
Was this a credible election? Was it a vote for stability, in a country located in a turbulent neighborhood? Or is Chad at increased risk of internal turmoil in the absence of political leadership renewal?
The elections took place under an “online blackout” with the internet cut and SMS service suspended. There was no European Union (EU) observer mission this year, contrary to the legislative polls in 2011, and the African Union (AU) mission that deployed deplored the “absence of national and international observers on Election Day.” The AU mission, headed by former interim president of Mali Diouncounda Traoré, found that “Globally, the presidential election was an opportunity for citizens to freely choose their leaders … in a peaceful climate within the legal framework in place.” A cause for pause is the fact that Déby is the current chairman of the AU. Moreover, Mali – and Diouncounda Traoré personally – is indebted to Déby for the role Chad played in freeing the country from Jihadist occupation in 2013. The opposition has complained of fraud and alleged that “Hundreds of ballot boxes have disappeared.” More than 40 members of the Chadian security forces are reported to have gone missing, with the bodies of four members found in the Chari River. Their disappearance was supposedly in retaliation for their voting against Déby, as the military voted one day early. An accusation denied by the government.
With the legitimacy of the election outcome challenged by the opposition, Idriss Déby starts his fifth mandate in a weakened position. While Déby is seen as a key ally by the West in the fight against terrorism, he has faced growing internal dissent over the past couple of years. An economic crisis fueled by falling oil prices, social dislocation in the Lake Chad area caused by Boko Haram attacks, and growing intra-religious strains feed mounting social tensions. According to the IMF, Chad will be Africa’s slowest growing economy in 2016 with an expected negative GDP growth rate of -0.4 %.
A coalition of civil society groups, “Trop c’est trop” (enough is enough), which came together to champion citizens’ welfare issues, such as the rising cost of living and widespread corruption [see earlier post here], has increasingly adopted a political change agenda. In an effort to oppose Déby’s candidature for reelection, the coalition partnered with another network Ca suffit (That’s enough), which includes workers’ unions, to successfully organize a general strike in February that locked down N’Djamena and Moundou and disrupted economic activities in provincial towns. Four civil society leaders were promptly arrested. February also saw extensive protests following the gang-rape of a 16-year old girl for which sons of army generals and other members of the elite stand accused. At least one demonstrator was killed. The scale of these protests has been described as “without precedent in Chad.”
Perhaps feeling the lack of love, one of Déby’s campaign promises was to reintroduce presidential term limits that were removed in 2005. “Today nothing requires us to remain in a system where changing leaders becomes difficult … In 2005 the constitutional reform was conducted in a context where the life of the nation was in danger,” he stated at a ruling party convention. With his reelection secured, it remains to be seen whether Déby will keep his promise and prepare for a succession.