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Chad vote counting begins after tense first Sahel presidential poll since coups

CHAD deployed dozens of security forces in the capital amid rising tensions as polls closed and vote counting began in the first presidential election in Africa’s Sahel region since a wave of coups.

Soldiers and riot police patrolled the streets alongside at least 30 armoured and other military vehicles in the opposition-friendly southern neighbourhoods of the capital N’Djamena, according to Reuters reporters.

The streets, normally bustling in the final hours of voting, were quiet.

At least one voter was killed in the Central African country’s second-largest city Moundou, south N’Djamena, after unidentified gunmen opened fire at a polling station, Chadian media reported.

Nomads, who make up around 7% of Chad’s population, were meant to begin early voting on Sunday. But by Monday afternoon, they were still unable to vote due to logistical problems, leaving many frustrated, according to the Reuters reporters.

“No one brought us a polling station or people to tell us where to vote,” one said.

Analysts say President Mahamat Idriss Deby, who took over the day rebels killed his long-ruling father, Idriss Deby, in April 2021, is most likely to win, although his chief opponent drew larger-than-expected crowds on the campaign trail.

Monday’s election pitted Deby against his prime minister Succes Masra, previously a political opponent who fled into exile in 2022 but was allowed back a year later. Also running were former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacke and seven other candidates.

Yaya Dillo, an opposition politician who had been expected to run against Deby despite coming from the same clan, was shot and killed in N’Djamena on Feb. 28, the day the election date was announced.

READ:  Chad’s ‘covert coup’ and the implications for democratic governance in Africa

Some opposition members and civil society groups had called for a boycott, citing concerns about possible vote-rigging.

That has raised fears of potential violence.

SECURITY AND ECONOMY KEY ISSUES

Some observers did not get their accreditations before the vote and were not given any reason for the refusal, Citizens’ Alliance for Elections, a platform that monitors the poll, said in a statement on Sunday.

Deby, who voted early on Monday in N’Djamena, has promised to bolster security, strengthen the rule of law and increase electricity production.

Some 8.5 million people were registered to vote. Provisional results are expected by May 21 and final results by June 5.

If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, a run-off will be held on June 22.

Security and the economy have been key campaign issues. Voters are also concerned about the high cost of living and access to water and electricity.

Ahaya Khalil, a voter in N’Djamena, said she was supporting Deby because he had promised to create jobs.

“We’ve come to vote for our president of the republic,” she said. “We hope he’ll give our children jobs once he’s elected.”

Another voter, Mahamat Issa, said he was voting for “peace, security and stability” for the country.

“Also, the population suffers from the cost of living — the future president must think about social issues,” he added.

The vote coincides with a temporary withdrawal of U.S. troops from Chad, an important Western ally in a region of West and Central Africa courted by Russia and racked by jihadism.

READ:  Chad opposition leader Masra appointed PM of transitional govt

Since replacing his father at the helm of the oil-producing nation, Deby has remained close with former colonial power and longtime ally France.

While other junta-ruled Sahel countries, including Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, have told Paris and other Western powers to withdraw and turned to Moscow for support, Chad remains the last Sahel state with a substantial French military presence.

The U.S., however, announced a temporary withdrawal of at least some troops last month following an order by Chad’s air force chief that the U.S. halt activities at an air base.

By MAHAMAT RAMADANE, DESIRE DANGA ESSIGUE and PORTIA CROWE

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