Idriss Deby, who ruled Chad for 30 years, died shortly after securing a sixth term as president, and a military council headed by his son immediately assumed power.
Deby, 68, died of injuries sustained in a battle against rebels, according to a statement read on state television by army spokesman General Azem Bermandoa Agouna. The 15-person council intends to govern for 18 months, with General Mahamat Idriss Deby serving as interim head of state.
Chad doesn’t have a deputy president and under the constitution, elections should be held within 90 days in the event the president’s post becomes vacant.
“The announcement of Deby’s son as interim head of state suggests that the army moved swiftly to ensure regime continuity, especially in the context of political tensions within the military and strong opposition in the country,” Nathaniel Power, a researcher at the Centre for War and Diplomacy at Lancaster University in the UK and the author of “France’s Wars in Chad,” said in a Twitter post. “This is technically a coup since it violates the constitutional provisions for what happens when the president dies.”
Parliament and government were dissolved and all air and land borders are closed, according to a separate statement signed by the nation’s new leader. Other members of the council include former Army Minister Djimadoum Tiraina and Mahamat Nour, an ex-rebel leader and defense minister.
Deby became president of the former French colony in February 1991 after leading a rebellion against autocratic leader Hissene Habre. He secured 79% of the vote in April 11 elections, according to official results released on Monday.
The credibility of the latest vote was called into question after the Supreme Court barred seven opposition candidates from running and three others later quit the race.
A group of Libya-based rebels, known as FACT, the French acronym for the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, and largely comprised of army dissidents, has been fighting to overthrow Deby’s administration since 2016.
On April 16, two FACT convoys advanced toward N’Djamena, the capital. They clashed with government forces the following day, according to state-run broadcaster Tele Tchad, leading to the deaths of more than 300 rebels and five soldiers.
“The Marshal of Chad, Idriss Deby Itno, did as he does whenever the state is seriously threatened, he took charge during the heroic fight waged against the terrorist hordes from Libya,” the military council said. “He was injured in the clashes and his soul left his body as he was repatriated to N’Djamena.”
The council’s account couldn’t be independently verified, and it was unclear why Deby had gone to the battle front.
Vipra Bhutani, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said the army’s version of events should be treated with caution, and Deby may have been killed in a direct rebel attack or by his own people.
“Political uncertainty arising from the change of leadership will prevail in the near-term,” Bhutani said. “We expect violent protests to break out in the country against the transition, as it is led by Mr. Deby’s son, and will heighten anti-regime sentiment.”
While the government said it had repelled the rebels, FACT leader Mahamat Mahdi Ali told Radio France Internationale late Monday they had made a tactical withdrawal.
French President Emmanuel Macron said it was important that the transition period remained peaceful and there was a speedy return to civilian rule.
“Chad lost a great soldier and a president who worked relentlessly toward the country’s security and stability in the region,” Macron said in statement. “France is losing a courageous friend.”
Mali’s interim President Bah N’Daw described Deby’s death as a heavy loss, not only for Chad but for the whole of Africa, while Senegal’s leader Macky Sall said he’d contributed to regional stability.
Chad has been a key contributor of troops to a multinational effort to defeat Islamist militants in West Africa’s Sahel region. Despite being a major oil producer, the country is ranked at the world’s third-least developed by the United Nations Development Program and two-thirds of N’Djamena’s population aren’t connected to the power grid.