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Chad’s strongman gets even stronger

Chadian lawmakers on Monday April 30 passed a controversial change to the country’s Constitution, which bolsters President Idriss Deby’s powers despite opposition warnings that it will undermine democracy in the oil-rich African country.

The text, which received the green light from the government earlier this month, needed to be approved by three-fifths of members in the National Assembly. It was passed by 132 votes in the 170-member legislature. Two members voted against it and there were no abstentions. The opposition boycotted the vote.

There was tight security around Parliament with all the roads leading to the legislature ringed by police. Two activists from the Chadian Convention for the Defence of Human Rights were arrested earlier on Monday, Mahamat Nour Ibedou, the head of the civil society group, said. “They wanted to stage a sit-in in front of Parliament,” he said.

They were released later on Monday.

Tchindebbe Patalle, a spokesperson for the National Union for Development and Renewal opposition party, said all opposition groups had “wanted to demonstrate outside Parliament to protest against the vote but the security forces are posted all around”.

Street protests are rare in Chad, which has Deby (65), had a long history of coups, and has been ruled with an iron fist by Deby (65) who is serving his fifth term, which runs until 2021.

He has insisted the changes are necessary. They will increase presidential terms to six years, with a limit of two terms. The current mandate is five years with no limits on re-election.

The vote comes amid growing political tensions in Chad, ranked by Transparency International as one of the world’s most corrupt nations, as opposition groups boycotted a forum last month to discuss the proposed changes.

Chad, a Western ally in combating jihadism in the Sahel region, is cash- strapped and poor and has endured two years of severe recession worsened by a slump in oil prices.

The changes do not include the creation of a post of vice-president, contrary to what was proposed at a national forum on the reforms in March.

The Catholic Church has warned that a new Constitution “seriously risks distorting the rules of the democratic game”.

Opposition groups have called for the text to be put to a referendum.

Deby, who has been named in a corruption probe in the United States, has said that elections, on hold since 2015, will take place this year. — AFP

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