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Fraud allegations surface ahead of referendum to lift presidential term limits

[Chad] Chad President Idriss Deby.
Un nouveau mandat de cinq ans pour le Président Déby (BBC)

Chadian President Idriss Deby is expected to be cleared to stand for a third term after a referendum next week but diplomats, human rights activists and opposition parties have already alleged massive fraud and say the result has been fixed in advance.

The people in this arid land-locked country will vote on Monday on whether to abolish the constitutional clause that stipulates that a president can only be re-elected once. Deby's second term in office is set to expire in 2006.

"There's no doubt about the result. The Yes campaign will win because the registration was fixed," one western diplomat told IRIN by telephone from Chad's capital, N'djamena, this week.

"They only did door-to-door registration, so the government just registered who they wanted to. If you lived in an opposition neighbourhood, no-one came," the diplomat said.

Chad's National Electoral Commission (CENI) has said 5.6 million voters registered for a ballot paper for the referendum on 6 June, but that figure has been widely contested.

"It is not statistically possible. Chad's population is about nine million and only 45 percent of Chadians are over 18 and eligible to vote," the diplomat said.

The Coordination of Parties in Defence of the Constitution (CPDC), a loose grouping of about 30 parties, agreed that the official number of registered voters was a sham.

"The publication of the voter registrations was clear proof of the large-scale cheating that is being orchestrated by the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS)," Ibni Saleh, the CPDC spokesman, told IRIN. "With hundreds of thousands of fictitious voters, there can be no credible poll."

While the bright yellow posters plastered around N'djamena by Deby's party urge people to "Vote yes for a harmonious Chad", the opposition has called on Chadians to boycott the referendum on amending the 1996 version of the constitution.

Map of Chad

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Map of Chad ...
Friday, January 24, 2003
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Map of Chad ...

In the referendum, voters are also being asked to rubberstamp proposals to abolish the Senate and replace it with an Economic, Social and Cultural Council, whose members would all be nominated by the president.

Dynasty ambitions

But it is the removal of the limit on presidential terms that everyone is talking about.

"The revision of the constitution aims to put a dynasty in place in Chad, to maintain Deby and his clan in power," the CPDC's Saleh said. "That's why we are calling on Chadians to stay at home, to have a day of national mourning, to show the international community that this referendum is not democratic."

The government says the constitution needs to be updated to correct its shortcomings. It points out that amendments have already been made on two occasions, once in 1989 and again in 1996.

"Our constitution has shown itself to be lacking certain things and we must adapt to the realities we now face," Mahamat Barada, a MPS activist, told IRIN.

The move has the overwhelming support of parliament, where Deby's MPS party holds 113 of the 155 seats. Just over a year ago, parliament approved the latest batch of constitutional amendments almost unanimously and now the Chadian people must ratify the changes for them to become law.

But human rights groups are worried that a special police unit, set up by the government with the help of former colonial power France to assure security during the vote, may scare No voters away.

"It's a form of repression that has been put in place especially for the referendum. It's all part of a system of threats," Tenebaye Massalbaye, the president of the Chadian League of Human Rights, told IRIN.

"Outside the big villages, in the bush, we expect the powers that be to force citizens to go and vote," he said. "A white paper will be used to vote yes and a black one to vote no, and you'll see that some places will only have white papers."

Also worrying observers is the High Communication Council's decision to ban private and community radios from airing political debates during the campaign period that ends on Saturday.

Yet while the controversy rages, politics is the last thing on the minds of many Chadians. Survival is what counts.

Food not politics

Some 80 percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day, struggling to find food and coping without running water or electricity. For those in the east, who are having to share their meagre resources with 200,000 refugees from the western Sudan region of Darfur, the situation is particularly bleak.

"The majority of Chadians are living from hand to mouth," independent weekly N'djamena Hebdo said in a recent editorial. "And it's at this moment that the powers that be think it's more important to organise a referendum instead of thinking of the masses."


Water is hard to come by in the east of landlocked Chad. The land is arid, the climate harsh, and there is little vegetation
[Chad] Water is hard to come by in the arid east of landlocked Chad.
Friday, September 17, 2004
Sudanese refugees and Chadian hosts share scarce water
[Chad] Water is hard to come by in the arid east of landlocked Chad.
Eking out an existence in arid land-locked Chad

Life is difficult even for professionals, like 40-year-old teacher Allangar. He says he is indifferent to Monday's referendum.

"Why should I go and vote? I don't have faith in this country's elections anymore," he told IRIN on one of N'djamena's sand-filled back streets. "Besides, I have too many problems of my own. I haven't seen my salary for two months. I've got better things to do than waste my time standing in a queue for nothing."

Joab Gozzo, a professor at N'djamena University, says that the ruling party is preying on people's impoverished state.

"The people you see taking part in the MPS rallies are only doing so to put something in their mouths. A bit of sugar or a banknote will help them but none of them believe in the party," he said.

The western diplomat confirmed these tactics were being used on a small scale.

Meanwhile Deby, who is in his 50s, has been keeping a low profile during the run-up to Monday's referendum, saying it is not something he has organised.

During his last election campaign in 2001 he told a French newspaper: “I will not stand as a candidate in the 2006 presidential election. I will not change the constitution - even if I have a hundred percent majority”. Since then he has no made no further declaration on the matter but his party has been pushing the constitutional change.

A victory for the Yes camp next week would pave the way for Deby to go back on his word and run for a third term in 2006. The opposition say that's just what he intends to do, eventually creating space for his son Brahim to succeed him, but other commentators warn against jumping to conclusions.

Done deal?

"It's not a done deal that he will run in 2006. There's still a lot of things that could sway it," the Western diplomat said.

"One of those is his health which is not very good although we don't know how bad. Another is that the people who tried to kill him last May will say 'We won't accept you'. I think the man is afraid and he has a lot of pressure on him."

In May 2004 disgruntled soldiers staged a mutiny, sending heavy gunfire rattling around the capital and shutting down mobile phone networks for several days. Diplomats said the would-be putschists came from Deby's own Zagawa ethnic group.

Deby, who first came to power in a coup d'etat in 1990, appears to have grown edgy about plots to topple him since then. His frequent red carpet forays across the capital have tailed off and Deby look-alikes surrounded by bodyguards have been spotted taking off on government planes in an apparent attempt to sow confusion over the real president's whereabouts.

Two months ago, N'djamena accused Sudan of providing backing for a 3,000-strong rebel force operating on the border between the two countries to destabilise Chad.

The threat to Deby from the opposition is perhaps the weakest. Observers say the opposition is too divided to offer a credible and effective alternative, as evidenced by the mixed messages they sent out heading into the referendum.

First, parties called for a total boycott of the referendum and the voter registration. But then some parties feared that the electoral register would be used for future elections and so told supporters to register but not vote.

Some commentators are asking whether it would be so catastrophic for this Central African nation, beset by civil war for much of the last four decades, if Deby were to run next year.


Réservoirs de stockage du pétrole au Tchad
Esso Photo
[Chad] These storage tanks hold crude oil from three fields in southern Chad. The oil is then sent to the pipeline which delivers it to the Cameroon coast more than 1,000 km away.
Tuesday, October 5, 2004
La Banque mondiale dénonce toute tentative de modification de la loi portant gestion des revenus pétroliers
[Chad] These storage tanks hold crude oil from three fields in southern Chad. The oil is then sent to the pipeline which delivers it to the Cameroon coast more than 1,000 km away.
Chad's oil fields in the south

He has presided over one of the most stable periods in the country's 45 years of independence, and that might be a comfort to France, which has seen its other former colonies like Togo and Cote d'Ivoire explode into violence in recent months.

And oil firms that have been pumping crude out of this newest African producer for almost two years would also shrug off Deby extending his power, analysts say.

"The oil companies are more concerned with stability and predictability so even if they don't admit it openly, their view will be better the devil you know," said Keith Myers, an African oil specialist at the London-based research group, Chatham House.

"Chad is an endemically unstable country and in fairness to the guy, he has presided over a period of stability. The key question is has he been governing with consent?"

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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