Chad’s President Delays Elections and Expands His Powers

With elections pushed back by a further two years, Chad’s military ruler Mahamat Deby is set to stay on as president. He’s also gained expansive new powers as part of several presential resolutions passed

Chad’s military leader Mahamat Deby has been officially sworn in as president for a second time, this time as head of a transitional civilian government.

General Deby has ruled Chad for the past 18 months as the head of a military council. He was installed by the army following the death of his father, long-term ruler Idriss Deby, in what has been called a “dynastic coup.”

With his inauguration on Monday, President Deby will now stay in power for an additional two years until elections are held presumably around October 2024. This vastly expands his projected time in office; the junta had originally promised a return to civilian rule within 18 months.

“This means that the powerful elite, those who are pulling the strings behind the scenes, have a total of three and a half years, and that’s a lot of time to establish themselves in power,” said Chad expert Helga Dickow, a senior researcher at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute in Germany.

‘Dictatorship in all but name’

On the streets of the capital N’Djamena, many people had scathing remarks to share about Deby’s inauguration.

“What happened has buried democracy in Chad,” one man told DW without sharing his name. “We shouldn’t impose a president on Chadians illegally.”

Another added: “Chad is no longer a country of law. It’s a dictatorship in all but name.”

The president’s authority meanwhile has also been broadened to allow him to name and dismiss the government, a move that has been criticized by opposition parties and pro-democracy groups in the vast Central African nation.

“They have given full powers to a single man … who will be able to take advantage of this authority to set his agenda, an agenda to confiscate power,” said Abdelkerim Yacoub Koundougoumi, the coordinator of the Project for Credible Change (PACT), a citizens’ movement.

“We’ve ended up with an all-powerful transitional president who can appoint and dismiss ministers, members of parliament and even the parliamentary speaker.”

At his inauguration ceremony, Deby appeared in a traditional white boubou robe instead of his militarz general’s uniform — as if to underline he was now president of a civilian government instead of the military council. But for Koundougoumi, “nothing has changed” with Deby’s new clothes.

Ruling elite

The longer transition period and expansion of presidential powers are just two of several resolutions adopted at the national peace dialogue that preceded Deby’s inauguration.

The dialogue also ratified the right of junta leaders to contest elections, opening up the possibility that 38-year-old Deby may run for president, despite originally promising the African Union and the international community that he would not do so.

Political scientist Dickow, who spent two months researching in Chad earlier this year, believes the resolutions are about “maintaining power within the regime, that is, the family members of Zaghawa clan as well as the military, who are still buzzing around even if the military council has been dissolved.”

Deby’s father Idriss ruled Chad for 30 years after seizing power in a coup. During his rule, he promoted relatives and allies from his Zaghawa ethnic group to senior government, business and military positions, creating a corrupt patronage system. One estimate of Idriss Deby’s personal wealth before his death was $50 million (€51 million).

This ruling elite is also the main beneficiary of a Chad’s oil wealth, a sore point in a country that ranks third lowest in the world on the development index and is currently suffering a food emergency following severe drought, widespread flooding and rising food prices.

An estimated two million people out of a population of 16.4 million are acutely facing hunger in Chad, according to UN agencies.

Democratic elections

Speaking at his inauguration, Mahamat Deby promised that “elections [would be] organized transparently and peacefully to … ensure the return to constitutional order.”

However, Chad has held elections since 1996, with not one of these votes resulting in a change of power. Observers widely declared the last elections held by Idriss Deby in 2021 a sham in the wake of campaign and protest bans on the opposition.

However, the political space somewhat opened up under the junta, said Hoinathy Remadji, a N’Djamena-based researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, an African think tank.

The ban on political protests was reversed, and there have been “more public opposition or civil society demonstrations against the junta in the past 18 months than in the five years of [Idress] Deby’s last term,” Remadji said.

Freedom of expression has also improved, he said, compared to the circumstances under Deby’s father, who regularly blocked internet and social media access for months at a time.

The junta has also received some praise for signing a peace accord with dozens of rebel groups active in the chronically unstable nation, although the largest armed group, known by its French acronym FACT, refused to take part.

Ally of the West

Deby also used his inauguration to ask the international community to help Chad in its “quest for security and stability … particularly in the theaters of peacekeeping operations and the fight against terrorism.”

Chad is a strategic ally of the West in the fight against jihadism in the Sahel, particularly for France, which maintains a military base in the country.

However, although the French and EU ambassadors attended the ceremony, EU members, including France, have expressed their concerns about the election delay and the failure to exclude junta members from running in future polls.

Most notably, African Union representatives were conspicuously absent from Deby’s inauguration. Political analyst Mahamat Abdoulaye Kebir said he believed the AU “boycotted” the event because of the junta’s broken promises.

Speaking to DW in N’Djamena, Kebir explained that he expected the AU to impose targeted sanctions on Chad, such as the suspension of Chad’s membership, at its next meeting.

The African Union itself, however, has already attracted criticism for not sanctioning Chad immediately when the military took power, as it did in the cases of Mali and Burkina Faso following coups there.

The AU is “weakening itself” when it proceeds one way with Chad and another way with other countries, said Chad expert Dickow. “That puts the organization in a very difficult position.”

The chair of the AU, Moussa Faki Mahamat, is a veteran Chadian politician, who held several posts under former President Idriss Deby. A Zaghawa and close ally of the former president, Faki is also rumored to have ambitions to run for Chad’s presidency himself.

Blaise Dariustone and Georges Ibrahim Tounkara in N’Djemba contributed to this article.

Edited by: Sertan Sanderson

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