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Chad – Expert Briefing by Daniel Eizenga

  • Chad is a semi-presidential republic where the president serves as head of state and the prime minister heads the government
  • The current constitution, promulgated following a popular referendum in 1996, provides for multi-party presidential and legislative elections
  • Presidential term limits were originally set at two five-year terms, but this was repealed following a constitutional amendment in 2005
  • Municipal elections scheduled for 2014 and legislative elections scheduled for 2015 have been indefinitely postponed
Idriss Déby Ituo - Photo credit - Marion Urban

Idriss Déby Ituo – Photo credit – Marion Urban

Chad has suffered from political violence and instability since independence from France in 1960. During the 1960s numerous rebel groups in the northern regions joined together to create the Front de Libération Nationale du Tchad (FROLINAT). The creation of FROLINAT marked the beginning of a civil war which lasted nearly 30 years. During that time, Chad experienced a series of military coups and rebel takeovers. These ended in 1990 when the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, mobilised a rebel force from western Sudan and seized control of the country, deposing Hissène Habré.

After taking power, Déby’s Mouvement Patriotique du Salut (MPS) transformed itself into a political party. Déby and the MPS oversaw a transition from the single-party rule to a multi-party system. The first multi-party presidential election in Chad’s history was held on 2 June 1996 with a second round run-off held on 3 July 1996. Déby defeated Wadel Abdelkader Kamougué in the second round with nearly 70% of the vote. In the subsequent presidential elections – held in 2001, 2006, and 2011 – Déby won an outright majority in the first round, negating the need for a run-off.

The MPS has won a majority of the seats in the National Assembly in each of the three legislative elections held under the 1996 constitution. The current National Assembly has 188 seats, of which the MPS won 117 in the most recent legislative election in 2011. A further 38 seats are held by parties aligned to the MPS.

Déby eliminated presidential term limits from the constitution in 2005 following a popular referendum. The political opposition contested the results of the referendum and boycotted the presidential election held in 2006. During the presidential election in 2011, the most notable opposition leaders again boycotted the poll.

Despite the transition to a multi-party system, Chad continues to suffer from political violence and instability. Over the last two decades, rebel and terrorist groups have challenged the government, creating areas of insecurity within the country. Rebel groups reached the capital city of N’Djamena in 2006 and 2008, but were forced to retreat following confrontations with the national military.

Following the failed rebellion of 2008, the United Nations added a peacekeeping force to an already established civilian mission in eastern and southern Chad. The Chadian government then held several negotiations with the rebel groups and the Sudanese government which had been providing a safe haven for the rebel groups. After the negotiations, and following an agreement between Chad and Sudan, the national military integrated most rebel forces.

This provided a degree of stability, but some rebel groups continue to contest Déby’s authority. A small rebel group based in southern Libya, the Conseil National de Redressement du Tchad (CNR), called on its supporters to join in armed rebellion to prevent Déby from winning the 2016 presidential election.

While the CNR poses a limited threat, terrorist organisations, notably Boko Haram, have caused significant insecurity in parts of Chad and more broadly in the region. Several Boko Haram attacks on villages in the Lake Chad region led President Déby to enforce a state of emergency in the region. Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in N’Djamena, making security during the electoral period a cause for concern.

Administering the first nation-wide biometric voter registration drive, which Déby promised during his 2011 campaign, was problematic. The biometric census intended to increase the overall transparency of elections. It was implemented at the end of 2015, two years behind schedule. Municipal elections (originally scheduled for 2014) and legislative elections (originally scheduled for early 2015) which were postponed until the census could be completed, have now been delayed again due to insufficient funding.

However, the political opposition contested the way in which registration was conducted by the national electoral commission. Leaders of the opposition cited several irregularities during the census and argued that the results were not reliable. They claimed that a number of ineligible voters were included on the electoral roll, while the authorities excluded other eligible voters.

On 10 April 2016, Chadians went to the polls to elect their president. Provisional results announced by the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI) on 21 April gave incumbent Idriss Déby Itno a clear majority and estimated turnout to be just over 75% of registered voters.

The Constitutional Court validated the results on 4 May proclaiming Déby the official winner of the election with 59.92% of the vote. Despite this endorsement of the results, the opposition led by Saleh Kebzabo, a longtime opponent of President Déby and the man who came second in April’s poll with 12.77%, refused to accept the outcome, claiming that the results had been fabricated. They pointed to a number of irregularities including: stuffing ballots boxes, removing ballots cast, and a lack of properly trained staff at polling stations.  Their concerns were shared by international election observers. However despite continued calls from opposition groups to protest against President Déby, participation in civil disobedience campaigns remained low.

By the end of 2016, no agreement had been reached to hold legislative and municipal elections that were scheduled to follow the presidential vote.

Daniel Eizenga is a research associate with the Sahel Research Group and a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Florida.