Chad’s veteran leader Deby is aiming for a sixth term in the presidential election

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Macron greets Sahel leaders for a summit in Pau

By Mahamat Ramadane and Joel Kouam

N’DJAMENA (Reuters) – Chadian voters will vote in presidential elections on Sunday, with Idriss Deby likely to extend his three-decade rule despite growing signs of popular discontent and criticism from the opposition over his handling of oil wealth becomes.

68-year-old Deby is one of the longest-serving leaders in Africa and an ally of Western powers in the fight against militant Islamists in West and Central Africa.

He took power in an armed uprising in 1990 and passed a new constitution in 2018 that could allow him to stay in power until 2033 – even if that reinstated the deadlines.

Deby has relied on a firm grip on government institutions and one of the region’s most capable military personnel to maintain power. He recently said he knew beforehand that he would win “as I have for the past 30 years”.

“Many of you, my daughters and sons, were not born when I took power in 1990,” he said at his last election rally on Friday. “You asked me to be a candidate for this sixth term.”

Deby’s six rivals include former Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke, but several leading opponents are boycotting the race, including 2016 runner-up Saleh Kebzabo, who has vowed to make Chad “ungovernable” if Deby wins.

Several recent anti-government demonstrations in the capital, N’Djamena, have turned violent and there was a strong military presence in the city on Saturday.

While soldiers patrolled the streets, city workers collected tires and plastic that protesters could set on fire.

Earlier this week, the authorities arrested several people, including at least one opposition leader, for a plot to kill politicians and bomb polling stations and the headquarters of the electoral commission.

The opposition said the arrests showed mounting repression under Deby, whose government also arrested dozens of people before the vote, according to Human Rights Watch.

The government rejects allegations of human rights violations.

It has come under increasing public pressure over a flagging economy as low prices for its main export, oil, have forced cuts in public spending and sparked labor strikes in recent years.

Norbert Djimadoum, a resident of N’Djamena, said he expects many people to express their dissatisfaction when they stay home on Sunday.

“There won’t be much buzz from the polls tomorrow and that will be a victory for the start of change,” he said.

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