Campaigning has ended for the presidential election in Chad. But an opposition boycott and the president's refusal to delay the polls following a rebel attack on the capital, have many questioning whether Wednesday's vote will be fair. Joe Bavier was at the final campaign rally in N'Djamena and has this report for VOA.
Thousands of Chadians packed into the national stadium in N'Djamena to witness the final event of what has been a troubled campaign for the presidency. They were watched closely by several hundred policemen in riot gear, as well as soldiers carrying machine-guns and grenade launchers.
It was just more than two weeks ago that rebels from the United Front for Change attacked the capital, in an unsuccessful attempt to topple President Idriss Deby before the election.
As the president took the stage for his final speech, it was clear the attack had become a centerpiece of his campaign, and that there was little doubt in his mind who was behind it.
"Our country was attacked," he said. "The capital was hit by mercenaries from Sudan. The immediate and strong response of our defense and security forces permitted us to foil this program to destroy our country by the regime in Khartoum."
Sudan has denied backing the rebels, who, until earlier this month, limited their attacks to the porous border area in Chad's extreme east. And the international community has asked N'Djamena to supply proof to back up its claim.
The mounting instability has forced several attempts at outside mediation. The African Union and European Union, as well as diplomatic missions from the United States and France, have all called for dialogue and a delay to elections.
A coalition of the principal opposition political parties has vowed to boycott the vote.
But President Deby has refused to back down from the May 3 date for the polls.
None of this, says the head of Chad's national human rights league, Tenebaye Massalbaye, bodes well for the future.
"The election on May 3 does not solve any of the problems," he says. "These elections are nothing more than a search for false legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. We can expect the repression to be even worse after the election," he says. "The rights that have only barely existed for the last few years will disappear completely."
Among the president's supporters, like 22-year-old Nakhal Nouman, the fault for the current impasse lies not with the president, but with the opposition and those he calls mercenaries.
"Those who boycott are just lazy," Nouman says. "We all have a duty to vote. If everyone recognizes Idriss Deby is the only candidate who can develop Chad, everyone has to vote for him," he says. "If those other parties call upon their supporters to boycott, that means they are not doing their duty."
Chad has yet to experience a successful non-violent transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960. President Deby came to power after leading a movement to oust then-President Hissene Habre in 1990.