A Chadian woman holds her voter card.

N’Djamena - Chadians went to the polls on Sunday in parliamentary elections which will test the opposition's strength against strongman Idriss Deby Itno for the first time in nearly a decade.

The oil-rich country's 4.8 million voters face a choice between Deby's Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) and a fragmented and under-funded opposition of more than 100 tiny parties.

In the capital N'Djamena, Deby officially opened a polling station, where he arrived with a large security contingent to cast his vote at 8.15am (07.15 GMT).

He called on “all Chadians, men and women, to turn out in massive numbers to fulfil their duty as a citizen and choose their representatives in the National Assembly.

“I hope our country will emerge stronger from these election, I hope the Chadian people will emerge from this election united.”

Political sources said voting which should have begun at 6.00am (05.00 GMT) got off to a late start.

Saleh Kebzabo, the deputy secretary general of the CPDC, an umbrella group of opposition parties, who is running in Mayo Kebby in southwest Chad, said: “Voting started late - sometimes as much as an hour.”

An AFP journalist noted that voting in one district in N'Djamena had still not started by 8.30 (07.30 GMT).

The MPS won nearly three-quarters of seats in the previous poll in 2002, the results of which were disputed by opposition parties and civil organisations.

Opposition parties including the main Federation Action for the Republic (FAR) boycotted a presidential election in 2006 that re-elected Deby, who seized power in a 1990 coup. - Sapa-AFP