In Chad, major maneuvers for the presidential election began against a backdrop of social crisis

Chadian politics had not presented such a young face for more than three decades

In Chad, major maneuvers for the presidential election began against a backdrop of social crisis

Chadian politics had not presented such a young face for more than three decades. Less than a year separates transitional president Mahamat Idriss Déby, 39, from his former opponent turned prime minister Succès Masra, 40. But cohabitation between the two heads of the executive, who seem destined to face each other at the polls, is not going smoothly, while the country is going through a major social crisis born from the brutal increase in fuel prices.

This Monday, February 26, the Labor Exchange in N’Djamena, the capital, is boiling with anger. The central unions voted to renew for two weeks the strike that began on February 20 after the liter of gasoline increased by 40%, causing an increase in the prices of basic necessities and the main modes of public transport. As the month of Ramadan approaches, which generally leads to a peak in consumption for households, the measure does not pass.

To justify this unpopular decision, the government cites the humanitarian crisis in the east of the country. Since the outbreak of hostilities in Sudan between generals Abdel Fattah Al-Bourhane and Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, known as “Hemetti”, almost a year ago, Chad has welcomed more than half a million refugees. Added to this pressure on the country's already scarce resources are the low capacities of the national refinery and hydrocarbon smuggling. On February 16, the country declared a state of food and nutrition emergency in the hope that donors would release new funds to support its economy.

“Bogus arguments! », protests Michel Barka, president of the Union of Trade Unions of Chad. Where did the oil money go? It only serves to hand out general ranks! », Launches the trade unionist. Since the start of black gold exploitation in Chad in the early 2000s, military spending has swallowed up the majority of oil revenues. “The price of a barrel is at its highest,” adds opponent Yaya Dillo, convinced that oil money feeds the “regime’s slush funds” and “finances cheating in elections.”

« Masra is not more Masra »

The presidential election is in fact on everyone's minds, including that of Succès Masra, returned from exile and then appointed prime minister thanks to a political agreement at the end of 2023. It is against him that the anger of the unions is directed. “He is facing his first real-life test,” analyzes political scientist Evariste Toldé. He will inevitably leave feathers there, which suits the business of power. » The protesters do not have harsh enough words against the one who, not so long ago, demonstrated alongside them. “He has renounced all his convictions”, judges, bitterly, a trade unionist. “Masra is no longer Masra,” says another.

“There are problems in Chad that we have had for sixty years. It’s not in sixty days that I’m going to change that,” the Prime Minister defended himself to the press on February 20. As an admission of helplessness before flying to the United States to request new financing from international financial institutions, notably the IMF which did not validate its latest review due to a lack of transparency concerning important extra-budgetary expenditure.

A year earlier, Succès Masra was one of the most virulent critics of the regime: “We do not reform a dynasty, we separate from it,” he declared on March 17, 2023 in the columns of the magazine Jeune Afrique, in reference to the accession to power of Mahamat Idriss Déby a few days after the death of his father, President Idriss Déby, killed during clashes with a rebel group.

On October 20, 2022, Succès Masra also called, with other organizations, to take to the streets to protest against the extension of the transition. The repression left at least 128 dead according to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), more than double according to the initiators of the march. After negotiations carried out under the leadership of Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, the opponent reached an agreement with the Chadian authorities which allows him to return, discreetly, on November 3, 2023, to N'Djamena. A text which ratifies the amnesty of civil or military officials involved in the massacre.

Mahamat Idriss Déby nominated candidate

Turnaround or political poker move? In N’Djamena, we scratch our heads trying to understand Masra’s strategy. “Everyone who wanted to change the system from the inside failed, even us! », smiles long-time opponent Yaya Dillo, even though he himself comes from the ruling clan.

“He took the head of a government in which he was only able to place one minister,” adds Evariste Toldé. How can we think that he has any room for maneuver? At most, he can rebuild his financial health and expand his network in the administration, but if he wants to survive politically and keep the head of his party Les Transformateurs, he must run in the presidential election. »

In this regard, the opposite camp has a head start. If he runs, Succès Masra will have to face the powerful machine of the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), the party founded by former president Idriss Déby, who won every vote for more than three decades and has already nominated his son , the current transitional president, Mahamat Idriss Déby, as candidate.

Around him, the party has already put itself in battle order by bringing together a coalition of nearly 200 parties including the National Union for Democracy and Renewal (UNDR) of historic opponent Saleh Kebzabo, which provides it with a based in the south of the country, a renowned opposition stronghold and where Succès Masra also comes from.

A first round in May?

“The chances of Masra, like the entire opposition, are very limited,” says Chadian analyst Remadji Hoinathy. All electoral institutions are locked by those in power. » All the members of the National Election Management Agency were appointed by the presidency and the president of the National Transitional Council, Haroun Kabadi, former secretary general of the MPS, too. As for the Constitutional Council, responsible for promulgating the final results, we find at its head the lawyer Jean-Bernard Padaré, former spokesperson for the same party. Under these conditions, some opponents are already considering a boycott.

So, take on a role of foil or bury for a while your ambitions to conquer power? Whatever his decision, the young prime minister must take it quickly because the authorities are moving forward at a rapid pace towards organizing the vote. The priority objective is to put an end to the transition within the allotted time frame to legitimize Mahamat Déby's power through the anointing of the ballot boxes. “Once elected, he will be in a much better position to negotiate with Westerners, but also with his father’s generals and traveling companions, who placed him at the head of the country,” explains a former regime executive.

And the countdown has already started. Between the month of Ramadan, which is not very conducive to political activities, and the rainy season from June to September during which certain localities are almost inaccessible, the window for organizing the vote is narrowing and all the sources interviewed are counting on a first round in the month of may. “To catch their adversaries by surprise, the authorities are organizing elections in a hurry at the cost of their credibility, even if it means planting the seeds of a future contestation of the results,” warns Remadji Hoinathy.

Combined with the social crisis, a post-electoral crisis would destroy the regime's efforts. Like all demonstrations for six months, the march planned by civil society organizations to protest against the increase in fuel was banned, while Mahamat Idriss Déby has been trying for several months to tighten the security apparatus around his most loyal collaborators. Aware that the presidential election represents a decisive turning point in establishing his power, the transitional president clearly does not want to leave anything to chance.