N’DJAMENA. — Chad’s veteran leader Idriss Deby Itno, who is also the current African Union chairperson has won a fifth term in office, the national electoral commission announced late on Thursday, extending his 26 years in power at the helm of a country that is central to the fight against Islamist insurgents.
President Deby succeeded President Mugabe as the rotating AU chairperson in January.
A key ally of the West, Deby took more than 60 percent of the vote in the first round of presidential polls, coming far ahead of main opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo, who won just over 12 percent, but said the vote was rigged.
We “don’t recognise the outcome of this electoral stick-up”, a group of opposition politicians including Kebzabo said, alleging ballot-stuffing and the buying-up of voter cards.
“Hundreds of ballot boxes have disappeared,” the group said, claiming soldiers who intended to vote against Deby had “disappeared” and had likely been “arrested and imprisoned”.
The AU last week declared the elections free and fair. On Thursday, ahead of the results announcement, there was a strong military presence on the streets of the capital, N’Djamena.
As Deby’s victory was announced in the evening, supporters from his Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) party celebrated by firing guns and automatic rifles into the air in the capital’s vast Nation square.
More than six million people had been asked to choose between 13 presidential hopefuls in the vote, with turnout pegged at more than 71 percent.
During the polls there was an online blackout with the Internet cut and mobile phones unable to send messages.
A camera crew for French-language broadcaster TV5 that had been covering scuffles between soldiers and young opposition activists over alleged ballot box stuffing had their camera roughly taken away by security forces and the footage erased.
Earlier this month, four civil society leaders were handed four-month suspended sentences for urging anti-government protests ahead of the vote. The government had banned demonstrations after protests erupted in February over the gang rape of a teenage girl blamed on the sons of top figures in Deby’s regime.
Four days after the ban, a student was killed and five wounded when police opened fire to break up a protest at Faya Largeau in the north.
The election also came as staff at several hospitals, schools and universities were on strike over weeks of wage arrears.
Deby gained power in 1990 at the head of an armed rebellion.
He abolished restrictions in 2004 on how many times the president can run for office, but has since pledged to reintroduce term limits.
Chad has one of the most capable armies in the region and Deby has played a key role in Western-backed efforts to combat neighbouring Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgents as well as al Qaeda militants.
A former French colony, Chad also hosts the headquarters of Paris’ 3 000-troop strong regional anti-militant operation, known as Barkhane. Under Deby, the once unstable country has become both an oil producer and an important regional power.
But despite a wealth of new oil resources since 2003, half of the population of 13 million lives below the poverty line and seven out of 10 people cannot read or write. — France24/AFP/Reuters/HR.