Chad's president casts ballot in re-election

Chadian voters began casting ballots Wednesday in a race that offered no real alternatives to incumbent President Idriss Deby, who rebuffed calls to delay the vote after rebels attacked his capital less than a month ago from their bases in the restive region where Chad meets Sudan's Darfur.

Turnout was low in the morning, with only a handful of voters at polling stations. The opposition had called for a boycott; Deby needs substantial turnout if his expected victory is to be seen as legitimate.

There was little question that Deby would retain power after the opposition boycotted the polls, leaving the field to the president, three of his allies and a minor opposition leader. Deby himself was among the first to place his vote into a clear plastic ballot box.

"All Chadians have come out to make their choice, the choice of their hearts, the choice of their convictions," Deby said. "This is enough proof that the people of Chad are mature, that they don't need anybody to tell them to boycott elections."

Deby, who seized power in 1990, won votes in 1996 and 2001 that critics say were neither free nor fair. Last year, he pushed for a national referendum to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. The amendment passed after an opposition boycott.

A man and a woman who were standing a short distance from a polling station Wednesday said they would not vote because they believed the poll would not be fair and they were unhappy that Deby has refused to negotiate with the political opposition to change the electoral system. They refused to give their names, fearing for their safety if they were seen as opposing Deby.

Deby's rivals had said the country needed electoral reform before credible polls can be held. Deby countered that a delay would create a constitutional vacuum, reports the AP.


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