Chad mulls presidential terms but opposition sceptical
Chadian President Idriss Deby on Monday opened a forum on sweeping constitutional reforms including presidential term limits in a country ruled he has ruled with an iron fist since a 1996 coup.
Deby kicked off the so-called "national forum" comprising more than 700 pro-government figures but boycotted by the opposition with a grandiose declaration that it would lead "to the birth of the Fourth Republic."
"If a federation or regionalisation is suited to our country, we must not fear to go this way," he said.
A draft of the proposals seen by AFP includes a presidential term of seven years through direct universal suffrage and a maximum of two terms.
The current mandate is five years and there are no limits on re-election. Deby is currently serving his fifth term.
The other proposals aim at increasing the terms of lawmakers by two years to six, scrapping several state institutions including a body monitoring how oil revenues are spent and whittling down the country's 23 "regions" to 14 "provinces."
The opposition said the exercise was mere window dressing.
Saleh Kebzabo, who stood against Deby in the 2016 election, said it was a ploy by Deby "to prolong his regime.
"Chad's problems lie elsewhere," Kebzabo said, speaking by phone from the Gabonese capital Libreville.
"Chadians are hungry and their children don't go to school... when will we have deep reforms?" he said, saying corruption was a huge problem and needed "the creation of a commission to look into ill-gotten wealth."
The Fonac, or the New Opposition Front for Change party, said the process is aimed at "perpetuating the power of Idriss Deby, something that is harmful and dangerous for the future of Chad."
A Western ally in combating jihadism in the volatile Sahara region, Chad has endured two years of severe recession worsened by a slump in oil prices.
The state is imposing cuts in public spending that the finance ministry says are vital to stave off bankruptcy, fanning discontent in a country where almost half the population of 14 million lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Deby has been named in a corruption probe in the United States.