Chad President Facing Growing Pushback in Bid for Sixth Term

Chad President Idriss Deby, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, is defying growing opposition to his bid for a sixth term as he seeks re-election on Sunday.

Chadians are going to polls that are widely expected to see the 68-year-old extend his 30-year premiership. The lead-up to the vote has been marred by violence, with security forces cracking down on protesters and rival candidates warning the vote is unlikely to be free or fair.

Chad’s main opposition figure, Saleh Kebzabo, withdrew from the poll after a deadly shootout at another candidate’s home in late February and called for a boycott of the vote.

“No one can prevent Chadians from voting massively for the candidate destined to lead the country for the next six years,” Deby said as he voted in the capital N’Djamena Sunday.

The government said Thursday it had arrested several people, including political leaders, for planning an attack on the electoral commission’s headquarters and polling stations, according to a statement from the ministry for public security and immigration.

“As many Chadians are bravely taking to the streets to peacefully call for change and respect of their basic rights, Chad’s authorities have responded by crushing dissent and hope of a fair or credible election,” Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in an April 8 report.

Deby’s campaign manager denied the charge.

Suspect Votes

Chad’s election is the latest in Africa in recent months marred by allegations of impropriety. Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguesso won a fourth five-year term last month in a vote tainted by suspected fraud, while Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni secured a sixth term in office in January after at least 54 people died in protests against the arrest of the leading opposition candidate.

Voters in Benin, once a regional exemplar of democracy, will also go to the polls Sunday. President Patrice Talon is seeking a second term in a vote lacking most opposition parties. He’s facing only two opponents after the Constitutional Court rejected 17 out of 20 candidates last month.

Chad President Facing Growing Pushback in Bid for Sixth Term

Benin’s parliament, controlled by parties that back Talon, passed electoral laws in 2019 that effectively made it more difficult for opposition candidates to run.

“Democracy is being challenged using the rule of democracy,” Jeannine Ella Abatan, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said by phone from Dakar. “That makes it difficult for regional organizations to respond appropriately.”

Chad’s Deby, who came to power in 1990 after spearheading a rebellion against autocratic leader Hissene Habre, says he’s confident he can win in the first round of voting.

“Many Chadians still see me as their president, and I’m sure this will be the case even after April 11,” Deby told a rally in the capital N’Djamena last week.

Election Boycott

Protesters are calling for better access to education, health care and electricity. Two-thirds of the N’Djamena population aren’t connected to the power grid, and the country is the third-poorest in the world, according to the UN’s humanitarian development index. That’s despite being a major oil producer, although two crude-price crashes have led to problems servicing debt.

Deby is facing nine opponents in Sunday’s poll after the constitutional court rejected seven others, though not all are taking part. National Union for Democracy and Renewal leader Saleh Kebzabo, who ran and lost against Deby in 2016, said he couldn’t participate in elections where the outcome was already known.

Albert Pahimi Padacke, who served as the last prime minister of Chad between 2016 and 2018, said a boycott will only give Deby an “easy victory.”

“It’s better to push for change through the ballots,” Padacke said by phone as he wrapped up his campaign in his southern hometown of Pala near the Cameroonian border.

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