Opposition denounces poll as ‘masquerade’, refuses to field candidate

For the first time since multiparty politics came to Chad the main opposition has declined to put forth a contender in a presidential election, this time around unanimous in calling for citizens to shun the process.

As the deadline for candidates passed at midnight on Friday only the agriculture minister and three representatives of political parties more or less aligned with the ruling party had submitted their names – along with President Idriss Deby - for the 3 May poll.

Opposition heavyweights have opted out and are urging voters to do the same. “We staunchly reaffirm that we are not taking part and will not endorse this masquerade,” opposition leader Lol Mahamat Choua said at a 1,000-strong rally in the capital N’djamena on Saturday.

Going a step further than calling for a simple boycott, Choua urged citizens to block the process, without specifying how they should do so: “The elections announced for 3 May will not take place. They must not take place. You must contribute actively toward this end.”

Opposition leaders, who since the February announcement of the election date have denounced the process, say Chad must revise its electoral commission and voter lists, among other changes, before a fair election can take place. The opposition laid out the grievances in a mid-March meeting with representatives of the diplomatic community.

Ngarlejy Yorongar, opposition candidate in 1996 and 2001, in a meeting last week with the prime minister and UN representatives, presented an 18-point proposal that called for a six-month extension of Deby’s mandate to address problems linked to the electoral process, he said. “Deby has refused our proposal; that’s why I am not participating in the upcoming election.”

Climate of uncertainty

The political strife comes amid a general angst that has gripped Chad for months, as rebel groups threaten to end Deby’s mandate by force. In the last two weeks alone, the government thwarted a coup attempt, the national army clashed with a rebel group in the east, and a reportedly minor exchange of gunfire in the capital emptied out businesses, offices and schools within moments as edgy Chadian citizens feared the worst.

One local journalist said he and many others do not expect Deby to last until the election. “The game is up; he’s going to fall.” But, he added, “The main and most troublesome question is who is capable of taking his place?”

But if Deby does last and the election goes ahead as planned, many citizens will stand by and watch, skeptical and disappointed. “We’ve concluded that the results of elections do not reflect the vote of citizens,” said one Chadian who gave his name only as Allarakete. “I no longer believe in these so-called elections.”

Another Chadian, giving his name as Mahamat-Zene, wants to send a message to the world: “We must not let Deby continue to govern by force. According to the opposition’s call, we must make the people aware so that not a single person goes out on 3 May.”

Deby is a former army commander who first took power in a coup in 1990 then won controversial elections in 1996 and 2001. He is running for a third term thanks to a 2005 constitutional amendment scrapping a two-term limit. In the two earlier elections there were 15 and seven candidates, respectively, including some opposition heavyweights.

Those submitting their candidatures for the 3 May poll are: Agriculture Minister Pahimi Padacket Albert, Rally of Nationalists for the Development of Chad/Redemption; former prime minister (in Deby’s first term) Kassire Coumakoye, Viva National Rally for Democracy and Progress; Mahamat Abdoulaye, Chad Movement for Democracy; and Ibrahim Koulamallah, New African Socialist Movement party.

The constitutional council is expected to announce a decision on the validity of the candidates by the end of the week.

Whoever makes it onto the ballot, Koumbo Singa Gali Sy, a journalist once jailed by the Chadian authorities, said it won’t matter. “This will be a non-event. It’s Deby against Deby.”