Chad’s new military junta on Monday appointed a transitional prime minister, who called for a nationwide effort to speed the return to civilian rule, suspended after the shock battlefield death of veteran leader Idriss Deby Itno.
The so-called Transitional Military Council (TMC) led by Deby’s 37-year-old son Mahamat named Albert Pahimi Padacke, a distant runner-up in April 11 presidential polls, as prime minister.
He was the last premier under Deby, and heads a government whose members will be named or revoked by the younger Deby, according to a 95-article “Transition Charter” published last Wednesday that supersedes the constitution.
“I call on the entire Chadian population to join in a sacred union to save our nation,” Pahimi Padacke said in an interview with AFP.
“I call on all Chadians… to not delay, to not lose time, to join together right away… to lay the groundwork for free and transparent elections within the timetable,” he said, referring to the 18 months pledged by the junta.
The United States voiced cautious optimism over his appointment, with Robert Godec, the acting top US diplomat for Africa, calling it “potentially a positive first step”.
The TMC groups 15 generals close to the late president, who won praise abroad for his leadership fighting jihadists in the vast and volatile Sahel.
Pahimi Padacke was credited with just over 10 percent of the vote in the April 11 election, whose landslide victory by Deby was in little doubt.
Opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo also cautiously welcomed the appointment, saying: “We are in an unusual political situation… we wish him a lot of success.”
“All Chadians must come together in this difficult period,” Kebzabo said.
“We should have had a civilian president first, followed by the appointment of a civilian prime minister,” said Succes Masra, head of The Transformers opposition movement.
His organisation called for Chadians to “come out en masse” on Tuesday to demand the TMC step down and to protest at France’s ‘negative interference” in Chad.
But the junta moved swiftly to ban the opposition protests.
All demonstrations “without a permit and likely to disturb public order are strictly banned throughout national territory,” a military decree said.
Pahami Padacke had presented himself during the campaign as independent, calling for Deby’s departure while praising the veteran leader’s “bravery”.
“The only courage he lacks is that of accepting a peaceful transfer of power,” he said at one campaign rally.
Deby had led the former French colony with an iron fist for three decades, winning six successive elections.
Pahimi Padacke was his prime minister from 2016 to 2018, when the president eliminated the post as part of moves to consolidate power.
The opposition has branded the accession of Deby’s son as head of a military council an “institutional coup”.
The junta has gone on the offensive against Libya-based northern rebels, vowing to root out their leader Mahamat Mahadi Ali and seeking help from neighbouring Niger to track him down along with his fighters.
Junta spokesman Azem Bermandoa Agouna accused the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) of killing several dozen Chadian soldiers and said Ali was “sought for war crimes by Tripoli’s prosecutor general”, adding that his assets had been frozen for “financing terrorism”.
According to the army, several columns of heavily armed vehicles rolled in from Libya on April 11 — election day in Chad — attacking a customs post in Tibesti province of Tibesti, some 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the capital N’Djamena.
FACT, which has a pact with Khalifa Haftar, the military strongman of eastern Libya, emerged in April 2016.
On Saturday the rebels said they were prepared to observe a ceasefire, but Agouna said the two sides were at war.
“They are rebels, which is why we are bombing them. We are waging war, that’s all,” Agouna said.
“The time is not for mediation, nor for negotiation with outlaws.”
Reached by telephone, Ali told AFP he was still in Chad, in the northern province of Kanem, adding that his forces had been bombarded.
“If they want to make war, we will make war,” he said. “If they attack us we will respond.”
Deby himself came to power in 1990 at the head of a rebel force that rolled in from neighbouring Sudan.
He was buried last Friday in a state funeral attended by French President Emmanuel Macron.