Chad Vote Begins as Junta Leader Looks to Legitimize Power Grab

(Bloomberg) -- Chadians began voting Monday in an election that military leader Mahamat Déby is widely expected to win, an outcome that would help legitimize his power grab after his father’s death three years ago.

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Déby is one of 10 presidential contenders. Others include Prime Minister Succès Masra, former Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke and Higher Education Minister Lydie Beassemda, the only woman vying for the top post. Voting began at 7 a.m. and is due to end at 5 p.m., and about eight million people have registered to cast ballots.

Key campaign issues have been high living costs and scant access to water and electricity. Déby has pledged to devote more resources to the most vulnerable, including women and children, increase industrialization, promote private enterprise and bolster security.

Coup Belt

A series of coups across a belt of African countries stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea over the past three years have left Chad as the last remaining military ally of the US and its European partners, who have been seeking to counter Islamist insurgents and Russian influence in the Sahel region. But last month, Déby ’s administration asked the US to withdraw its troops from an army base in the capital, illustrating that its allegiances may be shifting amid a rise in anti-Western sentiment.

“Déby wants to be seen as less dependent on the West by asking some US troops to leave,” said Remadji Hoinathy, Central Africa analyst at the Dakar-based Institute for Security Studies.

The credibility of the election has already been called into question by the Groupe de concertation des acteurs politiques, one of the main opposition coalitions, which has called for a boycott of the vote, and there are fears that violence could erupt if the process is seen as tainted. Prominent opposition leader Yaya Dillo was killed in February, and the electoral body subsequently barred two other opposition candidates from running, adding to fears that the contest is a sham.

“Chad wants democratic change,” Masra, widely seen as Déby’s main challenger, said in an interview. “A Chad with leaders chosen by the people, will be a Chad that’s ready to be a solid and reliable partner.”

Déby initially vowed to oversee a transition to democracy in the landlocked oil producer within 18 months of taking power in April 2021 after his father Idriss Déby died in a battle against rebels, according to the military. But he extended that period before finally announcing he was running for president. Analysts say it is unclear whether Masra’s presidential bid is a genuine attempt to challenge Déby or was orchestrated by the junta to present the election as credible.

“Déby will be looking at an election win to bolster his credentials as a democratically elected leader and ally,” Hoinathy said. “At least Chad’s western partners can say Déby was elected as opposed to grabbing power in a coup.”

Chad’s partners will be looking to the new administration to help maintain regional stability and manage the flow of refugees who are fleeing civil war in neighboring Sudan and could try and make their way to Europe, said Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

More than 500,000 Sudanese have already crossed the border into Chad since the war erupted a year ago, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

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