Chad’s ruling dynasty wants constitutional referendum

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The campaign for the approval of a new constitution started on Saturday in Chad, the campaign being seen as a test of legitimacy for the ruling junta and the three-decade reign of the Itno dynasty.

Over 8.3 million people in the vast but impoverished Sahel country are expected to participate in a referendum on December 17, a crucial step toward upcoming elections and the establishment of civilian governance. Critics, including the opposition, NGOs, and political analysts, suggest that the vote is likely focused on sustaining the “dynasty” of the current president and his family, following three decades of absolute power under his father.

The pro-junta “Yes” coalition, launched its campaign by advocating for the values of a highly decentralized unitary state. The proposed constitution faces opposition from those advocating a federal model. Radical opposition groups, some in exile since a violent crackdown in October 2022, call for a boycott, labelling the referendum as a masquerade.

The main concern among some experts and opposition figures is not the form of the state but rather the need to assess the government’s popularity and legitimacy through voter turnout.

General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, the transitional president, had initially promised to transfer power to civilians and hold elections in 2023, but later postponed them to 2024. He took office in 2021 after his father’s death, initially pledging a transition to civilian rule and free elections. However, he later extended the transition period by two years, leading to mass protests that were harshly suppressed, resulting in conflicting reports of casualties. The government’s recent amnesty for those involved in the disorder has sparked opposition criticism, raising concerns about justice and national reconciliation.

Chad’s diverse population, divided between the arid Muslim-dominated north and the more fertile, mainly Christian and animist south, adds complexity to the political landscape. Chad last year was ranked the second-lowest country in the world in the UN Human Development Index and 167th out of 180 nations regarding the perception of corruption by Transparency International.

 

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