Chad leaders urge civilians to participate in Sunday's Constitutional Referendum

Chad's military government says a majority of about 8 million voters are not ready to vote in the December 17 constitutional referendum that would pave the way for a return to civilian rule. A campaign for voter participation is taking place amid opposition and civil society calls for a total boycott of what they call Sunday's sham referendum.

The National Commission Charged with the Organization of Chad's December 17 Constitutional Referendum, or CONOREC, says several million voters have not collected their voter cards less than 48 hours ahead of Sunday's referendum.

CONOREC says that without voter cards, civilians who registered will not be allowed to vote in the referendum on a new constitution that sets the stage for elections and a return to civilian rule.

Chad's military government this week said it had dispatched what it called friendly civil society groups, opposition parties, and government ministers to towns and villages to some 8.5 million voters CONOREC says are eligible to cast their votes on December 17.

Brice Mbaimon Guedmbaye is a former presidential candidate and president of the opposition Movement of Chadian Patriots for the Republic. He says a majority of civilians do not believe the referendum will pave the way for Chad's military ruler Mahamat Idriss Deby to leave power because he initially refused to hand power to a civilian government in October 2022 as agreed and instead extended the transition period by two years.

He says civilians are angry and refusing to collect voter cards that will enable them to vote in the December 17 referendum because Deby is intimidating opposition political parties and civil society groups that are against a constitution that maintains Chad as a unitary state with powers centered in the capital Ndjamena. Guedmbaye says many civilians want Chad to adopt a federal system, end the dictatorship and the grip on power exerted by the Deby family on the country for 30 years.

Mahamat Idris Déby came to power on April 20, 2021, following the death of his father Idriss Déby Itno while fighting rebels in the north of his country. The rebels were fighting to end what they called Itno’s 31-yearlong autocratic rule.

His son took power and promised to organize elections within 18 months but instead extended his rule until November 2024.

Civil society and opposition leaders say the referendum the military leader is organizing cannot be taken seriously because Deby rules with an iron fist, and cracks down on freedom of speech and assembly. The opposition says CONOREC, the referendum management body, is partisan. Several dozen opposition parties and civil society groups are calling for either a “no” vote or a boycott of the referendum.

Francois Djekonbe leads a Yes Coalition set up by Chad's military rulers to campaign for a vote for a new draft constitution, which the military junta says strengthens judicial independence and institutional reforms. He says claims that Deby does not want to leave power are unfounded.

Djekonbe says Chad will — for the first time since it achieved independence from France in 1960 — have a National Assembly and a Senate to both legislate, vote laws and control activities of government ministers. He says the constitution also reinstates presidential term limits of two five-year terms that was abolished by Chad’s former president Idris Deby Itno before he died,

Djekonbe said the new constitution gives all 23 regions that make up Chad greater financial autonomy in a decentralized system of government, and the possibility of electing their local governors previously appointed by the central government in Ndjamena.

Sunday's constitutional referendum will enable the junta to manage Chad's transition until presidential elections are held by October 2024. Chad's opposition says the constitution to be voted on Sunday does not bar Deby, a 39-year-old military general, from participating in Chad's 2024 presidential election.

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