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Chad Holds Legislative Elections - 2002-04-21

Over 40 political parties are set to take part in legislative elections in Chad Sunday. But the ruling party of President Idriss Deby is expected to retain control of the parliament.

At least 40 parties are fielding more than 400 candidates for 155 parliamentary seats in Sunday's poll, the country's second legislative elections since the return of the elected government.

The ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement, the party of President Deby who ousted dictator Hissene Habre in 1990, currently holds 65 out of 125 seats and hopes to maintain its majority. The government says the number of seats was increased to 155 to help ensure better representation of voters.

President Deby's ruling MPS party is heavily favored to take the northern, southern and central regions of the country, where 45 seats are in the running. Members of Mr. Deby's party also holds a majority in the National Independent Electoral Commission, which last year ruled that Mr. Deby had won re-election despite widespread criticism from the other six candidates.

The electoral campaign, which closed late Friday, attracted high participation in regional areas, especially in the densely-populated south, but drew little enthusiasm in the capital, N'Djamena.

Observers say voter apathy may lead to a low turnout. One local newspaper laments the lackluster nature of the campaign, but says this is inevitable, since the results are already decided during the electoral campaign. According to the electoral code, revised last year, the results will be decided according to a single, proportional vote.

Opposition parties earlier threatened to boycott the polls, if greater guarantees of transparency were not provided. However, they failed to put up a united front.

The main opposition parties are now fielding candidates. But two important opposition parties, the Union for Democracy and the Republic (UDR), and the Party for Liberty and Development (PLD) are staying away.

In the former French colony, which proclaims equal rights for all, the unequal role of women may influence voters' choice.

Thirty-five candidates are female, and women's associations have recently urged voters not to vote for men that have failed to keep their promises in the past.

High unemployment and rising crime, much of it thought to be carried out by soldiers, is a principal concern of voters.

Chad, a nation of 8.4 million people, is one of the poorest countries in the world with an annual per capita income of $230.

However, it is rich in natural and mineral resources and next year expects to begin exporting up to 250,000 barrels of oil a day. This via a pipeline across Cameroon to the Atlantic Ocean, from oilfields in the south of the country.

Nomads in the sparsely populated desert north began voting a few days ago. But polls in N'Djamena, the center and the south, open early Sunday and close in the evening.

Official results are expected later in the week.