Constitutional referendum in Chad: towards an exit from the transition?

Chadian voters were summoned on Sunday, December 17, to vote on the new Constitution proposed to them by the transitional authorities

Constitutional referendum in Chad: towards an exit from the transition?

Chadian voters were summoned on Sunday, December 17, to vote on the new Constitution proposed to them by the transitional authorities. While local media noted low participation, the constitutional referendum is supposed, according to the transitional authorities, to pave the way for elections at the end of 2024 and guarantee the return to civilian power.

This vote comes as Chad has been led since April 2021 by General Mahamat Idriss Déby, successor to his father, Idriss Déby Itno, killed at the front while the army was fighting the Front for Alternation and Concord in Chad, a rebel group. If the supporters of yes, led by Prime Minister Saleh Kebzabo, defend a decentralized unitary state, the promoters of no, led by the opponent Ngarlejy Yorongar, say they are in favor of a federal regime. Others called for a boycott.

Following the inclusive and sovereign national dialogue, organized between August 20 and October 8, 2022 in N'Djamena, the transitional government expressed its desire to submit to a referendum a draft new Constitution intended to replace the transitional charter and to restore constitutional order. The opposition sees it as a way to vote for the military in power and to perpetuate the Déby system. The new fundamental law, if adopted, would in fact authorize General Mahamat Idriss Déby to run in the presidential election scheduled for the end of 2024. He had however promised after taking office that he would not seek the vote of his fellow citizens and would hand over power at the end of the transition period.

The new Constitution, if adopted, will establish a decentralized unitary state. The text submitted to referendum provides, among other things, the creation of autonomous communities with elected local assemblies, the withdrawal of the head of state from the presidency of the Superior Council of the Judiciary, the limitation of presidential mandates to two five-year terms.

Members of the transitional government, the former ruling party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), and the politico-military movements signatories to the Doha agreement called for a yes vote to the new Constitution. “The federation risks sowing division in an already fragmented country,” said MPS spokesperson Jean-Bernard Padaré. The constitutional referendum is also a way to guarantee more “stability”, according to former rebel Abdallah Chidi Djorkodeï, now head of the Party for Reform and Economic Independence (PRIE).

Following the general amnesty decreed in November for all people, civilians and soldiers, involved in the massacre of October 20, 2022, which left at least 218 dead according to the Chadian Human Rights League and the World Organization Against torture, the government benefited from the support of one of the main opposition groups. The Transformers have in fact called on their supporters to vote yes in the referendum, after their leader Succès Masra returned to Chad after a year of exile.

Opposition groups united in particular within the Federal Bloc, the Republican Platform, the Consultation Group of Political Actors (GCAP) and civil society actors such as Wakit Tama called for a vote no or a boycott of the referendum. While the new Constitution takes up the unitary form of the State already enshrined in previous Constitutions, “excessive centralism” thus refers to the “poor governance and underdevelopment” of the country, according to Ngarlejy Yorongar. The supporters of federalism are also located in the southern provinces, where the population's feeling of abandonment towards central power has been the strongest for decades.

Part of the opposition denounced obstacles to its campaign to boycott the referendum. On December 7 in N’Djamena, law enforcement officers tore off posters bearing a red cross from the vehicles of a campaign caravan to signify their refusal to participate in the vote. The demonstrators were then dispersed with tear gas, according to AFP.

In the town of Bousso, more than 300 kilometers southeast of the capital, “the demonstrations calling for no were prevented from campaigning,” denounces the coordinator of the Wakit-Tama citizen actions coalition, Max Loalngar. These criticisms, however, are not shared by the entire opposition. The president of the Popular Front for the Federation (FPF), Daniel Adoumbaye, claims, for example, to have been able to freely “organize political meetings in front of thousands of people in the towns of Bongor and Koumra in the south of the country, calling on the populations to boycott ".

The dissenting voices in the referendum, on the other hand, unanimously criticized the body responsible for organizing the referendum, Conorec. The opposition accused him of lacking neutrality. Led by the Minister of Territorial Administration, Decentralization and Good Governance, Limane Mahamat, the commission is accused of being under the influence of the government. “Article 7 of the Transition Charter, however, requires the neutrality of the body responsible for directing the referendum process,” underlines Chadian anthropologist Remadji Hoinathy.

The main demand of the opposition remains, however, the refusal to see General Mahamat Idriss Déby run in the presidential election scheduled for the end of 2024, which the new Constitution would authorize. This red line set by the opposition was, however, already at the heart of the demonstrations of October 20, 2022 against the transitional president’s retention in power for two additional years. Fourteen months later, the front of refusal has weakened. The official results of the referendum are expected on December 24, before their validation by the Supreme Court on December 28.