To prepare for elections, Chad begins a “national debate.”

After 18 months of military rule, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, the head of the military government, believes the forum should pave the way for “free and democratic” elections.

Despite some opposition parties refusing to attend, the long-awaited negotiations on the future of Chad, which the country’s military government describes as a “decisive moment,” began. In preparation for the three-week “national dialogue,” more than 1,400 representatives of the military, civic society, opposition parties, labor unions, and rebel groups convened on Saturday in N’Djamena, the country’s capital.

General Mahamat Idriss Deby of the army is the one who started the negotiations. Deby arrived to begin the forum while wearing military attire and was met with heavy security. He called the forum as a “decisive moment in the history of our country.” Prior to reviewing an honor guard, he unveiled a statue representing national unity at the capital’s January 15 palace. After his father, who had governed for 30 years, was murdered in a military operation against rebels in April 2021, Deby, then just 37, assumed power. After 18 months of military rule, Deby has stated that the forum should pave the way for “free and democratic” elections; this is a deadline that France, the African Union (AU), and other organizations have asked him to uphold.

The “conversation,” which was supposed to start in February, has been delayed due to disagreements among the numerous rebel groups from Chad that are gathering in Qatar. In the end, on August 8, roughly 40 parties agreed to an arrangement that included a truce and assurances of safe passage back to Chad. A new constitution that will be submitted to a referendum, institutional reform, and a durable peace are all on the agenda for the discussions. Decisions made during the forum would be “legally binding,” according to a decree Deby signed on Wednesday. According to Saleh Kebzabo, a deputy president of the forum’s organizing committee and a former rival of the elder Deby, the formal debate will start on Sunday or Monday.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the head of the AU Commission and a Chadian, will also speak at the beginning of the discussions. There will be a variety of issues covered, Hiba Morgan of Al Jazeera reported from N’Djamena. The election and whether armed groups will be permitted to run for office would be the main topics of discussion, she added, along with the disarmament of armed groups that have signed the Doha peace agreement.

“Skewed ahead of time”

Two exiled rebel leaders, Timan Erdimi and Mahamat Nouri, came back to Chad on Thursday to take part in the discussion. Erdimi, the leader of the Union of Resistance Forces, stated that the pact was struck in order to reconstruct Chad (UFR). Since its independence in 1960, Chad, one of the world’s poorest nations, has experienced several upheavals and instability. Observers claim that there are many obstacles to the discussions, including time constraints, the absence of two of the most important rebel groups, as well as a significant political alliance. The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) is one of the organizations; it was responsible for the military onslaught in the northeast last year that resulted in the elder Deby’s demise.

The talks, according to FACT, are “skewed in advance.”

Wakit Tamma, a sizable alliance of opposition parties and civil society organizations, also declines to take part, blaming the military for “human rights crimes” as well as for setting up Deby’s presidential run. Succes Masra, the head of the Transformers party, a member of the Wakit Tamma alliance, called for civil resistance on Saturday during a gathering in N’Djamena that drew hundreds of supporters and a sizable police contingent.

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In the meantime, the head of the UN urged Chad to take advantage of a “historic opportunity” presented by the approaching historic meetings in order to restore peace to the nation and chart a route for democracy. On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres congratulated the people of Chad and the transitional government and recognized “the efforts done by all other parties to reach this historic moment.”

Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesperson for Guterres, stated that the secretary-general “marks that the dialogue offers a historic opportunity to build new foundations for the stability of Chad, via the strengthening of democracy and good governance.” The UN chief also asked the political and armed forces that have not yet ratified the Doha peace accord to join the dialogue and urged “all elements” of Chadian society, including women and young people, to participate.