The transitional president, General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, whose junta has governed since 2021, had promised to hand over power to civilians and organize elections this year before postponing them until 2024.
More than 8.3 million people in this vast but poor Sahel country are expected to vote in a referendum scheduled for December 17, a key step toward elections and the establishment of civilian rule.
According to the opposition, NGOs and political scientists, the vote should focus on maintaining Itno and his family’s “dynasty” after three decades of absolute power enjoyed by his father Idriss Deby Itno.
“Beyond the form that the State will take, the main issue is to allow power to test its popularity and legitimacy, which will be determined by the participation rate,” explains Issa Job, professor of law at the University of N’Djamena.
“The form of the State is not the priority,” added Enock Djondang, former president of the Chadian League for Human Rights (LTDH).
“All those who reject this regime can only vote against what he proposes.”
The proposed new constitution is not very different from the previous one, which concentrated significant powers in the hands of the head of state.
The pro-junta “Yes” camp supports a unitary state, while opponents support a federal model.
The most radical opposition groups, some of whose leaders have gone into exile since the bloody repression of a demonstration on October 20, 2022, are calling for a boycott of what they call a “masquerade”.
What is proposed is a “solitary electoral process” for the “perpetuation of a dynastic system”, according to the Consultative Group of Political Actors (GCAP), a platform bringing together around twenty parties.
– “Free” elections –
On April 20, 2021, a junta of 15 generals proclaimed General Mahamat Déby, 37, president for a transition period after his father fell on the front line while accompanying troops against the rebels.
Deby junior has pledged to take power by returning power to civilians and allowing “free” elections after an 18-month “transition” period.
He also pledged not to run.
But 18 months later, on the recommendation of a national dialogue boycotted by the vast majority of the opposition and the most powerful rebel groups, Mahamat Déby extended the transition period by two years.
He also allowed himself to run for president, swapping his military uniform for a civilian suit.
– ‘Massacre’ –
Mass protests broke out in October last year after the transition period was extended and were brutally suppressed by security forces.
Between 100 and 300 people were shot dead by police, according to the opposition and NGOs, as people demonstrated in the capital N’Djamena and beyond.
The authorities report around fifty deaths, including six members of the security forces.
On Thursday, the government granted an amnesty to “all civilians and soldiers” involved in the unrest, testifying to the junta’s “desire for national reconciliation”.
The opposition protested against the idea of a general amnesty law intended to “protect from justice the police and soldiers behind the massacre”.
All anti-regime protests have been summarily declared illegal over the past year, with the exception of a key opposition figure, Succes Masra, who returned from exile after signing a “reconciliation” agreement. » with Déby.
On October 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concern over “attempts to limit political dissent ahead of the referendum.”
“For this referendum to have any legitimacy, the opposition parties and their leaders must feel free to meet and campaign. Otherwise, the referendum risks being perceived as a means of perpetuating the transitional government.”
Chad’s population of 18 million is divided between an arid north and a Muslim population, which has dominated power for more than 40 years, and a more fertile south, home mainly to Christians and animists.
Last year, Chad was ranked as the second lowest country in the world on the United Nations Human Development Index and 167th out of 180 countries in perceived corruption by Transparency International.