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Chad: A Show Transition and Dynastic Consolidation

Chadians preparing to vote in the 2016 presidential election

Written by Alec Soltes, contributions from Adrian Elimian

Fresh off the heels of last year’s constitutional referendum, former transitional military leader Mahamat Déby has put into action plans to run for president of Chad, a post previously occupied by his slain father Idriss Déby Itno. Under a new set of rules laid out by the new constitution, the elections for president and parliament have been decoupled and the presidential election was controversially brought forward in a move the junta claimed would shorten the transition to civilian rule. In a country that has not had a peaceful transition of power in its history, few are expecting anything less than a win for the younger Déby and a supportive majority in parliament later this year.


In a coup d’etat against then-president Hissène Habré in 1990, rebel leader Idriss Déby’s Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) seized control before organizing the country’s first multi-party presidential elections in 1996. However, from its outset, the Déby regime continued authoritarian rule. During his time in office, opposition figures like Saleh Kebzabo and Yaya Dillo were frequently harassed and detained, and their supporters faced arbitrary violence. Opposition protests faced repeated crackdowns while irregularities remained a key feature of Chadian elections. Abuse of state resources in favor of MPS, its legislative coalition, and Déby himself also contributed to the lack of democratic credibility in Chadian governance.

Idriss Déby in 2012

Despite these major flaws, Chad’s instrumental role in combating regional Islamist groups helped it maintain strong ties with the West, particularly France. However, since Déby seized power in 1990, the country has been more or less in a constant state of war, with the autocratic government being a focus of contention. Even an arduous victory for Déby’s government in a civil war from 2005 to 2010, failed to quell the rebellions completely. Against this backdrop, Idriss Déby died in April 2021 after thirty years in power, having been killed on the frontline in while commanding troops fighting against a rebel group known as the Front for Change and Concord (FACT).

Immediately following the assassination, a military junta led by Mahamat Déby took power with the support of Déby-allied politicians and the French government, which deemed the coup as necessary under “exceptional circumstances.” Power was nominally transferred to a civil transitional authority in October 2022, with Déby as its president. The extension of the transitional process beyond October of that year triggered protests that were violently suppressed by security forces and saw the exile or detention of multiple opposition figures.

A New Constitution

As a part of the reforms promised by the transitional government, a new constitution was drafted and approved in June 2023. On paper, it included several notable reforms. The post of prime minister was re-established, and the draft added a second legislative chamber. It also offered nominally independent election oversight through a new body, a new two-term limit for presidents, and a reformed judiciary. Last December, a referendum on was carried out. Members of the transitional council, like Mahamat Déby, voiced support for the new constitution. The main opposition to the new constitution came from Chadian federalists such as Federation, Action for the Republic (FAR, social liberal) who wanted to see the implementation of a federal Chad. In an unequal political environment, the new constitution was adopted by an overwhelming majority, with 85% in favor. The results were confirmed by the Supreme Court, despite being disputed by opponents of the constitutional changes.

Political Environment

Chad is not a democratic country in any sense of the word. Its V-dem score is .14, placing it in the bottom 20 countries tracked. The party of both Débys — the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS, *) — served first as a vehicle to bring down the Habre government and then as a means for organizing support for the family and its associates.

The ruling dynasty haicls from the Zaghawa ethnicity based in eastern Chad and the western Darfur region of Sudan. The elder Déby spent decades appointing extended family members and members of the Zaghawa ethnic group to senior government and military posts. A major point of contention between the old guard military elite and Mahamat Déby exists due to the latter’s support for the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan, whose predecessors known as the Janjaweed actively encouraged armed rebellions in Chad. It is an especially salient issue given that the Darfuri Zaghawa community were targets of the Darfur genocide carried out by the Janjaweed and reports have emerged that RSF forces have targeted ethnic Zaghawa villages in Sudan in that country’s ongoing civil conflict. Some commentators and journalists have suggested that Mahamat Déby’s position could be threatened due to these tensions along with emerging fractures within the family structure since Idriss Déby’s passing.

As several opposition figures are former Déby government officials, many are ethnic Zaghawa with some even being member of the Déby family. One of these related dissidents was Yaya Dillo, a cousin of Mahamat Déby and leader of the opposition Socialism Without Borders party (PSF, left-wing). Dillo and the elder Déby were opponents during the civil war between 2005 and 2010, but his group disarmed and Dillo himself joined the government in 2008. Serving as minister then ambassador, Dillo was dismissed from the administration for alleged defamation in his criticism of a government contract awarded to the first lady’s foundation. He attempted to run in the 2021 presidential election but a raid on Dillo’s house — led by then-military officer Mahamat Déby — killed his mother, son, and other family members along with forcing Dillo into exile. After returning to the nation, Dillo became leader of the PSF and prepared to run for president this year, notably allying with Idriss’ brother Saleh Déby at the start of 2024. However, in what has become a defining moment for this election, a shooting outside the offices of the Chadian National Agency for State Security on 28 February was blamed by the government on PSF supporters. In response, Chadian military units claim that they attempted to arrest Dillo but he was killed in a gunfight during the raid on party headquarters. Dillo supporters contend that the incident was manufactured to give a pretext to kill Dillo, pointing to evidence that he was extrajudicially executed at point-blank range rather than shot in a gun battle. In a matter of days following Dillo’s killing, the Chadian government jailed Dillo allies and dissolved the PSF.

A genuine chance for the opposition?

Although former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacke has also announced his candidacy, most notable among non-Déby candidates is Succès Masra, who has served as Prime Minister since January. Between founding Les Transformateurs (liberal) in 2018 and returning from exile ahead of the constitutional referendum, Masra was largely seen as a genuine opposition figure. However, Masra’s credibility among some opposition groups has taken a hit during his brief stint as prime minister. Part of this is due to the head start both Masra and Mahamat Déby were given for campaigning before the official start of the presidential campaign period. This inequity has cast doubts over the efficacy of the new National Electoral Management Agency (ANGE) created by the ratification of the December 2023 constitution. Comments from Masra on France24 expressing “total trust” in Mahamat Déby also contribute to this perception as does the history of prime ministerial appointments in Chadian politics.

Significant rhetorical shift by Masra from labeling of Déby as a potential génocidaire in May 2023 (left) to “total and unconditional support” for Déby after Dillo’s killing in February 2024 (right)

Since 1996, only Padacke, Saleh Kebzabo (UNDR, center-left), and Masra have been chosen from parties outside the governing coalition to hold the post of prime minister; the last two only having been appointed during the transitional period. By including prominent opposition figures with little chance of implementing radical change, the Débys consolidated their grip on power. The arrangement suggests a divergence between a “systemic” opposition, opposition that does not offer broad systemic change, and other parties and candidates calling for more profound change. An example of the latter would be the former PSF, but these “anti-systemic” parties proliferate and are generally fragmented; most of the parties represented in Chad’s pre-coup parliament held only one or two seats in the 188-seat legislature. Meanwhile, Masra’s presidential bid is a prime example of systemic opposition, having been labeled a “false candidacy” by other opposition figures.


What is most likely is a continuation of the past: election irregularities and crackdowns on opposition protests should they emerge. The country’s new constitutional institutions are fresh, without any experience or a track record. In the actual conduct of the election, whether Déby’s current transitional administration will try to put undue pressure on the electoral institutions has yet to be fully established.

A fully free and fair election is not likely to occur. Whichever candidate wins the poll will almost certainly use the veil of competitiveness that shrouds the political environment to claim a mandate that would be unrecognized by most of the opposition. With the nation and region at a potential turning point, this election and its aftermath will be tremendously impactful on Chad’s 18.5 million people.

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