Police in Chad fired tear gas and made several arrests as hundreds protested President Idriss Deby’s nomination on Saturday to run for a sixth term in April.
Deby, 68, who came to power in a 1990 rebellion, pushed through a new constitution in 2018 that reinstated term limits but would let him stay in power until 2033. His opponents accuse him of crippling the country’s institutions in a bid to hold on to power.
In the capital N’Djamena, hundreds of protesters set tyres on fire and chanted “No to a sixth term!” and “Leave, Deby!”, according to witnesses.
Police fired tear gas and arrested several people, including Mahamat Nour Ibedou, a prominent human rights activist. Protests were also held in the cities of Moundou, Doba, Sarh and Abeche, witnesses said.
The protests followed the announcement that the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) party had backed Deby’s bid for a sixth term in office.
Accepting the nomination, Deby said, “The people’s confidence has a sacred value for me.”
Deby, who took the title of field marshal last August, said he responded “favourably to this call of the people” after “a mature and deep introspection”.
Poverty, corruption and landslide election victories
Chad is an ally of Western nations in the fight against Islamist militants in West and Central Africa and one of the largest contributors to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.
Deby has faced strikes and protests in recent years over economic woes caused by low oil prices and armed rebellions in the desert north, where former colonial power France has intervened in support of the government.
Since ousting the autocratic leader Hissene Habre in 1990, Deby has been re-elected every five years in landslide election victories. But he has drawn on his effective control of state media and institutions to maintain political dominance.
During his rule, Deby has been accused of appointing relatives and cronies to key positions and failing to address the poverty that afflicts many of Chad’s 13 million people despite oil wealth.
The country ranks 187th out of 189 in the UN’s Human Development Index.
Banned opposition demonstrations, arbitrary arrests and severed access to social networks raise regular objections from human rights groups, which have also accused the ruling class of endemic corruption.
Opposition forms an alliance
Ahead of the April election, 12 opposition parties last week said they would field a joint single candidate. They also signed a deal creating an electoral coalition called Alliance Victoire (Victory Alliance).
Signatories include two prominent opposition figures – Saleh Kebzabo, the runner-up in the 2016 election with about 13 percent of the vote, and Mahamat Ahmat Alabo.
The opposition manifesto says other opposition parties can join, although it does not set a date for when the single candidate will be named.
The alliance’s coordinator, Alladoumngar Tedengarti, said “the lesson has been learned” from 30 years of elections in which Deby has been able to cruise past a fragmented opposition.
Other leaders who have yet to join include Laokein Kourayo Medar, who placed third in 2016, and Succes Masra, whose campaign group, The Transformers, has joined with NGOs to call for protests.
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