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Low Turnout in Chad's Presidential Election


Despite fears of an attack by rebels opposed to incumbent President Idriss Deby, Chad's presidential elections took place Wednesday without reported violence. Despite the low turnout, Mr. Deby's supporters are already hailing the election as a success.

The head of President Deby's Patriotic Movement of Salvation, Mahamet Hissein, called the day's voting a victory in itself.

Speaking to journalists at the party's headquarters in the capital N'Djamena, he said calls by opposition leaders to boycott had been rejected by the people. He said participation was higher than for the referendum last year that cleared the way for Mr. Deby to run for a third five-year term.

But the streets of N'Djamena were largely deserted throughout the day, a clear sign many Chadians stayed home. Many polling stations in the capital remained empty throughout most of the day. Transparent voting boxes rarely contained more than a few dozen ballots.

In opposition strongholds in N'Djamena, many said they were following the boycott. A coalition of 20 parties rejected Mr. Deby's successful bid to change the constitution's term limit clause. They now say he has no right to run again.

Other residents of N'Djamena stayed indoors fearing rumors that the rebel United Front for Change might attack in an attempt to disrupt the election. The UFC led a pre-dawn raid on N'Djamena just three weeks ago but failed to topple Mr. Deby.

The African Union and European Union had called on the president to delay the polls and open dialogue with the opposition and rebels. But, Mr. Deby rejected all calls to negotiate.

There was no sign of international election observers at more than a dozen polling stations visited by VOA. Some independent Chadian observers say they were harassed at polling stations and that there were indications of fraud during voting.

President Deby is the heavy favorite to obtain more than 50 percent of the vote and win in the first round. Of the four candidates opposing him, two are ministers in his governments and two others are members of a coalition backing him.

Mr. Deby came to power after leading a successful rebel campaign to topple his predecessor, then-President Hissene Habre in 1990.

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