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Voters in Chad have approved a new constitution that authorities say will usher in an era of democratic rule even as the referendum was marred by opposition boycotts and allegations that it was a fix.
The poll, which took place last Sunday and was backed by the transitional government of General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, was approved by 86 per cent of voters, the electoral commission said. Turnout was 64 per cent, according to the National Commission in charge of organising the constitutional referendum (Conorec).
Chad’s previous constitution was repealed after the death of former strongman leader Idriss Déby, Mahamat’s father, in 2021 when he was killed on the front lines by an insurgent group. A group of military officers bypassed the constitution which stipulated that the head of the national assembly become interim president and an election organised in 90 days. The military named the younger Déby president, continuing the family’s rule over the north-central African country since 1990.
The newly approved constitution is similar to the old one, concentrating power in the hands of the central government in the capital N’Djamena. Although it provides for the creation of self-governing communities with local legislatures and traditional chiefs, opponents of the new constitution argue it does not go far enough in creating a decentralised federal system where local governments can be truly autonomous in such a vast country.
Opposition figures fear that the constitution, which has to be ratified by Chad’s supreme court within four days, will help Déby cement his grip in the nation of 17mn people ahead of elections expected to be held in October 2024. Déby established the electoral agency which oversaw the referendum and appointed loyalists to helm Conorec as commissioners.
Déby announced an 18-month transitional period when he seized power following his father’s death but the period was extended for two years in August 2022, fuelling anger. An agreement barring interim leaders from contesting the presidency was also repealed, paving the way for the 39-year-old to run in next year’s vote.
Demonstrators protesting the extension of the transition were attacked by security forces in October 2022, killing more than 50 people, although human rights groups and opposition figures say that number was likely an underestimate.
Many protesters were arbitrarily detained without charge and some have disappeared. A controversial law to grant amnesty to security forces believed to be responsible for the killings has been criticised by civil society groups as absolving the government without providing justice for those killed.
Albert Pahimi Padacke, a Déby-appointed former prime minister who resigned last year in protest against the extension of the tenure of the transitional government, had called on Chadians to boycott a referendum he described as a “farce”.
“This is not fair, and it is not democratic. That’s why we have called on Chadians not to participate in this farce,” Padacke said.
Chad, a western ally in the fight against insecurity in the region, is one of the world’s poorest countries despite an oil boom since 2003 that accounts for almost two-thirds of its export revenues and about 30 per cent of its gross domestic product. Poverty has risen in recent years and more than 42 per cent of the population live below the poverty line. Eighty per cent of adults in Chad are illiterate.
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