The vote count began in Chad after a tense presidential election on Sunday that is expected to see President Idriss Deby extend his rule for three decades, despite signs of growing discontent with his management of the country’s oil wealth.
Election officials began counting ballots at a polling station in the center of the capital N’Djamena immediately after the polls closed, under the surveillance of a group of observers, a Reuters reporter said .
The electoral commission has until April 25 to announce the provisional results.
A key ally in the West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the Sahel, Deby, 68, is the favorite in a six-candidate race with no major rivals after a campaign in which protests were banned or dispersed.
Queuing to vote in the capital N’Djamena, a 25-year-old saleswoman named Bernadette told AFP that she was voting for Déby because “thanks to him I am free to walk wherever I want, day or night. night, in complete safety “.
Sunday morning, the voting booths and ballot boxes gradually arrived in the city, many polling stations visited by AFP not having opened in time.
Police and military personnel were deployed in force in N’Djamena, with elite Republican Guard troops deployed in the central polling station where Deby himself was due to vote, an AFP journalist said.
Chad has struggled with poverty and instability since gaining independence from France in 1960.
A former rebel and career soldier who seized power in a coup in 1990, Deby has twice foiled, with the help of France, attempts to oust him.
Other candidates include Albert Pahimi Padacke, former Prime Minister of Deby, and Felix Nialbe Romadoumngar, officially “leader of the opposition” since his URD party has eight seats in the National Assembly.
Lydie Beassemda, former Minister of Agriculture, is the first woman to run for president in Chad’s history.
She is launching her campaign on federalism, in a country where ethnic rivalries are common, and on women’s rights, in a culture where patriarchal domination is anchored.
But seven other candidates were rejected by the Supreme Court and three withdrew, including longtime opposition politician Saleh Kebzabo, who resigned in protest against violence by the security forces.
Soldiers killed in Lake Chad ambush
Deby campaigned on a promise of peace and security in an area that has been rocked by jihadist insurgencies.
Two Chadian soldiers were killed Thursday in an ambush in the Lake Chad region, where Islamist extremists are increasingly targeting civilians and security forces, Communication Minister Cherif told AFP on Sunday. Mahamat Zene.
Provisional election results are scheduled for April 25, with final results expected on May 15.
With Deby set for the win, the major question mark is the turnout.
Deby urged voters at his last rally on Friday to “come forward massively,” but many residents have expressed disinterest in an election whose outcome already seems certain.
Some 7.3 million people are eligible to vote out of a population of 15 million, but the most critical opposition parties have urged voters to boycott the elections.
Weekly protest marches calling for a peaceful transfer of power have been banned or forcibly dispersed.
On February 28, police and soldiers carried out a commando-style raid on the home of a prominent candidate, Yaya Dillo Djerou. His mother was among at least three people killed and he is now on the run.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres are among those who have voiced criticism.
The United States is watching
The United States on Thursday urged electoral supervisors and Chadian courts “to ensure that these elections are conducted freely, fairly and transparently.”
“We will monitor in the days to come,” warned US State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Deby also profited, as before, from divisions and weaknesses within the opposition.
Francois Djekombe, president of the opposition Union Sacrée pour la République, said public mobilization efforts had been weakened by internal bickering, poor leadership and inadequate communications.
“Let us humbly acknowledge that we have failed,” he said ahead of election day. “It is clear that the people do not want the popular revolt that we have tried to impose.”
Kelma Manatouma, a Chadian expert at Paris-Nanterre University, declared that “with the considerable resources that Deby has mobilized, he is certain that he will win”.
Chad has been an oil producer since 2003, but it remains deeply poor.
In 2018, 42% of the population lived below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. In 2020, Chad ranked 187th out of 189 countries on the UN Human Development Index.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)