| 29 February 2024, Thursday |

Chad votes on new constitution ahead of promised end of military rule

The once nearly impassable jungle region between Colombia and Panama has transformed this year into a swift yet perilous route for hundreds of thousands of individuals from various parts of the world who are heading north from Latin America.
Driven by economic crises, government repression and violence, migrants from China to Haiti decided to risk three days of deep mud, rushing rivers and bandits. Enterprising locals offered guides and porters, set up campsites and sold supplies to migrants, using color-coded wristbands to track who had paid for what.

Enabled by social media and Colombian organized crime, more than 506,000 migrants — nearly two-thirds Venezuelans — had crossed the Darien jungle by mid-December, double the 248,000 who set a record the previous year. Before last year, the record was barely 30,000 in 2016.

Dana Graber Ladek, the Mexico chief for the United Nation’s International Organization for Migration, said migration flows through the region this year were “historic numbers that we have never seen.”

It wasn’t only in Latin America.

The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean or the Atlantic on small boats to reach Europe this year has surged. More than 250,000 irregular arrivals were registered in 2023, according to the European Commission.

A significant increase from recent years, the number remains well below levels seen in the 2015 refugee crisis, when more than 1 million people landed in Europe, most fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Still, the rise has fed anti-migrant sentiment and laid the groundwork for tougher legislation.

Earlier this month, the British government announced tough new immigration rules aimed at reducing the number of people able to move to the U.K. each year by hundreds of thousands. Authorized immigration to the U.K. set a record in 2022 with nearly 750,000.

A week later, French opposition lawmakers rejected an immigration bill from President Emmanuel Macron without even debating it. It had been intended to make it easier for France to expel foreigners considered undesirable. Far-right politicians alleged the bill would have increased the number of migrants coming to the country, while migrant advocates said it threatened the rights of asylum-seekers.

On Sunday, Chad’s voters participate in a referendum on a new constitution, marking a crucial stride towards promised elections and the reinstatement of civilian governance, which was delayed by the ruling military junta.
A large section of the opposition and civil society in the central African country are calling for a boycott.
They argue the plebiscite is designed to pave the way for the election of the current transitional president, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, and the continuation of a “dynasty” begun by his late father 33 years ago following a coup.
The “yes” camp seems assured of victory after a well-financed campaign by the ruling junta against a divided opposition, which has faced arrest, intimidation and threats for more than a year.
The capital N’Djamena has been plastered with posters championing a “yes” vote to bring in a constitution for a “unitary and decentralized state.”
It is not very different from the constitution that the military repealed in 2021, enshrining a regime in which most of the power is concentrated in the head of state.
The opposition, which advocates federalism, backs the “no” vote.
The “yes” camp retorts that a unitary state is the only way to preserve unity, while federalism would encourage “separatism” and “chaos.”
Provisional results are scheduled to be published in late December, with the Supreme Court due to validate them four days later.

The two main platforms of parties and civil society organizations hostile to the junta have called for a boycott, hoping a low turnout will delegitimize a leader whom they accuse of perpetuating a 33-year “Deby dynasty.”
Where they can find space, they have put up posters with the words “Stop the referendum” and a big red cross.
They are hoping a low turnout will undermine the credibility of the referendum, which is “purely and simply legitimising the dynasty that they want to impose on us,” said Max Loalngar, coordinator of one of the groups, Wakit Tamma.
He was speaking to AFP by telephone from a country of exile that he declined to name.
Some advocates of a boycott were dismissive of both sides.
“They’re all the same, whether they’re campaigning for ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They’ve shared the money out between themselves,” Badono Daigou for the GCAP opposition platform told a rally.
“The result is a foregone conclusion. The ‘yes’ vote will win.”
Mahamat Deby, 37, was proclaimed transitional president by the army in April 2021, following the death of his father Idriss Deby Itno, who was killed by rebels on his way to the front line of the fighting.
Deby senior had ruled Chad, the second least developed country in the world according to the United Nations, with an iron fist for more than 30 years.
When he took power, his son promised elections after a transition period of 18 months and made a commitment to the African Union not to stand in them.
But 18 months later, his regime extended the transition by two years and authorized him to run in the presidential election, now scheduled for the end of 2024.


  • Arab News