April 21, 2016 / 11:19 PM / 3 years ago

Chadian President Deby re-elected in landslide first-round victory

Chadian President Idriss Deby addresses a news conference at the close of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 31, 2016. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

N’DJAMENA (Reuters) - Chad’s incumbent president, Idriss Deby, an important ally of the West in the fight against Islamist militants, won a fifth term in office in a lopsided first-round victory, the Central African country’s elections commission announced on Thursday.

Deby, 63, who argued during the campaign that only his government was capable of ensuring security amid a rising wave of extremist violence, took 61.56 percent of the vote in the April 10 poll, easily avoiding a second-round runoff.

Opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo finished a distant second with 12.80 percent of the vote, followed by Laokein Kourayo Mbaiherem with 10.60 percent, according to the commission, which put turnout at 76.11 percent.

“We are happy to have been able to meet the challenge we set for ourselves - a first-round knockout. Now we need to work implementing our program,” Deby’s campaign spokesman, Mahamat Hissein, said in an interview.

Deby, who gained power in 1990 at the head of an armed rebellion, abolished restrictions in 2004 on how many times the president can run for office.

But he has pledged to reintroduce term limits at a time when other African leaders have been trying to amend their constitutions in order to extend their rule, leading to violence in Burundi, Burkina Faso and Congo Republic.

Chad has one of the most capable armies in the region and Deby has played a key role in efforts backed by the West to combat neighboring Nigeria’s Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram fighters as well as al Qaeda militants.

A former French colony, Chad also hosts the headquarters of Paris’ 3,000-troop strong regional anti-militant operation, known as Barkhane.

Reporting by Madjiasra Nako; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by G Crosse and Peter Cooney

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