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Africa

Chad presidential election: assassination of main opposition figure casts doubt on country’s return to democracy

todayMarch 22, 2024

Background
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Supporters of Succes Masra gather during a meeting of the Chadian political party Les Transformateurs during which the former opponent who became Prime Minister of the junta, is expected to be inaugurated for the candidacy for the May 6, 2024 presidential election in N’Djamena (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

 

By Helga Dickow, University of Freiburg

 

 

The assassination of Chad’s main opposition leader, Yaya Dillo, is hanging heavy over presidential elections due in early May. Dillo was killed on 28 February when the headquarters of the opposition Party Socialiste sans Frontières (Party of Socialists without Borders) in the Chadian capital N’Djamena was besieged by the newly formed Rapid Reaction Force.

It’s not the first violence meted out to the opposition. In October 2022 Chadian security forces killed hundreds of protesters. They were protesting the extension of the transition to democracy from 18 to 36 months and the decision of transitional president Mahamat Idriss Déby to stand as a candidate in presidential elections.

An expert on democratisation in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Chad, Helga Dickow, sets out what this level of violence portends for the country.


Who was Dillo, and why was he important for the upcoming poll?

The assassination took place one day after the publication of the electoral calendar for the presidential elections. For the first time a member of the ruling clan was killed publicly in N’Djamena.

According to the resolutions of the 2022 national dialogue, elections must take place before October 2024 to end the political transition and return to constitutional order. No dates have been set for the parliamentary and local elections. It is more than doubtful that they will take place in the near future.

Dillo was determined to take part in the elections and challenge the rule of his cousin, Mahamat Déby, even though he’d faced heavy intimidation. His stated ambition was to see Chad return to democracy, to end widespread corruption and improve the living conditions of poor people in the country.

Dillo had clear ideas about fighting poverty based on insights he’d gained doing a doctorate in economics in Canada.

There are a number of reasons, in my view, why his death is a tragic loss for Chad.

Firstly, Chad has lost a political leader whose competences are desperately needed in the country.

Secondly, Yaya Dillo was one of the few politicians from the north of the country and the only one from the ruling Zaghawa clan who reached out to and connected with the opposition in the south.

He had shown that he was able to overcome ethnic, religious and regional boundaries in a highly divided country. An example of this was that he joined the opposition coalition Groupe de concertation des acteurs politiques (Group of Consultative Political Actors), which opposes the dynastisation of the Déby family and stands for better living conditions for all Chadians.

This voice has now been silenced. His supporters are in hiding or have already been arrested and taken to the Koro Toro high-security prison in the desert. His party has been dissolved by the government.

What does the assassination mean for the presidential elections?

Dillo’s murder hasn’t changed the programme for the upcoming elections. Three days after Dillo’s death, transitional president Mahamat Déby declared himself a candidate.

Déby, who became interim president in 2021, is the candidate of a new coalition of more than 200 political parties and more than 1,000 civil society organisations, the so-called Coalition pour un Tchad uni (Coalition for a United Chad).

The driving force behind this coalition is the former ruling party Mouvement Patriotique du Salut, which was led by his father, the late Idriss Déby.

How prepared is Chad to conduct elections?

The transitional president and his allies, especially the Movement Patriotique du Salut and some members of the parliament, are in a hurry to hold the elections to replace the “interim president” with a “president”.

But the key question is whether the presidential poll will be followed by parliamentary elections, as was agreed in the transition plan of the national dialogue of 2022.

There are many, including myself, who doubt this will happen. Mahamat Déby is likely to act like his father, who attached great importance to presidential elections but steered clear of parliamentary polls. Before Idriss Déby’s death in 2021, the last parliamentary elections were held in 2011.

Additionally, there are strong doubts about the independence of the electoral authorities. Mahamat Déby nominated most members of the Agence nationale de gestion des élections (National Election Management Agency) and of the Constitutional Court, which must validate the election results. All of them were loyal to his father in the past and have been members of the Movement Patriotique du Salut for many years.

Potential candidates in the presidential election could submit their candidacy from 6 to 15 March. The list of candidates approved by the Constitutional Council will be published on 24 March. Voter registration has already taken place in preparation for the constitutional referendum in December 2023. The same lists will be used. But anyone who reached the age of 18 in the period between the registration exercise and May 2024 will not be able to vote.

From a logistical point of view, everything seems to be ready for the presidential poll.

What’s behind the political violence in the country?

Violence against the political opposition is nothing new in Chad. It has always taken the form of attacking anyone in the way of either Déby. In 2008, Ibni Oumar, a widely respected political opponent of Idriss Déby in the north and south, was arrested. He disappeared. No trace of his body was ever found.

On 28 February 2021, Yaya Dillo was attacked in his home and his mother and other members of his household were killed. He managed to escape. He had declared his intention to run against Idriss Déby in the presidential poll that year.

On exactly the same day three years later, he was killed in very similar circumstances.

Dillo was one of the few Zaghawa who continued to call for an investigation into Idriss Déby’s death. Three years later, the circumstances are still unclear. Salay Déby, a younger brother of Idriss Déby, has gone as far as to accuse Mahamat Déby, the (adopted) son and president of the transitional government, of being behind the death of his own father.

Yaya Dillo and Salay Déby, both members of the ruling clan, joined forces two weeks before Dillo’s assassination. The party headquarters that has now been destroyed was located in Salay Déby’s house.

How inclusive is the electoral process?

Looking only at the Coalition pour un Tchad uni, the electoral process might appear to be inclusive. But democracy is not a one-party system. It is doubtful that all the parties and associations joined out of conviction in favour of Mahamat Déby and his allies in the parliament.

On the contrary, it is obvious that the regime used and will continue to use violence. The fear is that recent events are only the beginning of another permanent dictatorship in Chad.The Conversation

Helga Dickow, Senior Researcher at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institut, Freiburg Germany, University of Freiburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Written by: Contributed

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