Chad Goes To The Polls: An Opportunity For Change?

President Idriss Deby of Chad has announced that the legislative elections, scheduled for 2015 but much postponed, will be held this year. The President declared this on the cusp of the New Year and encouraged politicians to show patriotism and responsibility in the run-up to the poll.

A good number of Chadians showed a positive reaction to the announcement, with a great hope and optimism that it will be used by the opposition to build momentum towards the unseating of President Deby who has been in power December 1990 after toppling Hissene Habré. The spokesperson of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Agnès Romatet-Spain, has expressed her hope and declared the importance of Parliamentary elections in democratic life. In addition, Analysts explained that it came as a response to Chad’s key ally France, who has on more than one occasion asked the Chadian government to organise the legislative elections. It is also seen as a way to pacify the opposition who has persisted in calling for the holding of legislative elections. The parliamentary elections will not only play a critical role in the democracy of Chad, but will also allow its citizens to articulate their interests and hold government accountable. This is a long-awaited period for the Chadians. Although, the opposition rejected the financial constraint as the reason for postponing the parliamentary elections originally scheduled to hold in 2015, this is an opportunity for the Chadian government to pacify the tension and doubt, since the country has secured billions of dollars in pledges from donor countries aimed at helping to revive the country’s struggling economy.

Chad holds elections at the national level for a head of state – the President – and a legislature. The president is elected for a five-year term by the people, while the National Assembly is elected for a four-year term. A parliamentary election which held on Sunday 13th February 2011, the first such election since 2002, was originally scheduled for 28th November 2010 but was postponed following a meeting in September between the ruling party and opposition leaders. According to the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), this was due to timing constraints caused by complications encountered during electoral preparations. The next election, which will be held this year, was originally scheduled for 2015 but was postponed due to financial constraint. However, the opposition derided his comments that the country did not have the financial means to hold polls and have dubbed the current parliament illegitimate.

Elections in emerging democracies and conflict-ridden societies have a great potential to plunge a country into more violent conflict, to undermine processes of stabilisation and to discredit democratization. Elections are not only a tool of democratic participation but also a fierce contest for positions of leadership, power and access to resources. Chad faces a political crisis resulting from more than 27 years without a democratic change in leadership. The past elections in Chad has recorded problems, such as electoral fraud, multiple voting, underage voting, and low voter turnout, which have the potential of generating violent conflict. Therefore there is a need for collaboration between various institutions—government, civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the international community—to establish a robust security framework that recognizes the underlying causes of electoral conflict and mitigates the risk of violence.

Ademola Olayiwola