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July 17, 2024

Senegal Court Deals Major Blow to Opposition Leader Sonko’s Presidential Hopes

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Jan 6, 2024

Senegal’s Constitutional Council ruled this week to reject the presidential candidacy application of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, dealing a significant setback to his bid to challenge incumbent President Macky Sall in next month’s election. This comes on the heels of the country’s Supreme Court upholding Sonko’s conviction last year on defamation charges, which under Senegalese law bars him from running.

Background

Ousmane Sonko, 48, rose to prominence as an outspoken critic of government corruption, garnering strong youth support. He placed third in the 2019 presidential election. Since then, he has faced growing legal troubles that he insists are politically motivated to derail his career.

In March 2021, Sonko was accused of raping an employee at a beauty salon. This sparked several days of violent protests that left at least a dozen dead. While the rape charge was dropped months later, the subsequent investigation led to tax evasion and other charges.

Most significantly, last June a Senegalese court convicted Sonko of defaming Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang by accusing him of misappropriating public funds. Sonko was sentenced to a suspended prison term and fined.

Senegalese law prohibits candidates with criminal records from running for president. Sonko appealed his defamation conviction, but the Supreme Court rejected that appeal this week.

Constitutional Council Bars Candidacy

On Thursday, Senegal’s Constitutional Council determined that Sonko’s conviction made him ineligible as a candidate in the February 25 presidential vote.

The opposition leader decried the ruling as engineered to serve President Macky Sall, who is seeking a controversial third term in office.

“This demonstrates that in reality, they have decided that democracy should disappear,” Sonko told reporters after the decision.

Hundreds of his supporters gathered outside his party headquarters, chanting slogans. Some threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas. At least three people were injured in the clashes.

Quick Facts on Ousmane Sonko
Age: 48
Profession: Tax inspector, politician
Political Party: Pastef-Les Patriotes
2019 Presidential Election Result: 15% of vote, 3rd place

While banned candidates have sometimes been reinstated to the ballot on appeal, analysts see little chance of reversal this close to voting day.

“The game is over. The Constitutional Council’s decision is final — no one can stand against it now,” said constitutional law professor Abdoulaye Dieye.

Impact and Reactions

As arguably President Sall’s most prominent challenger, Sonko’s sidelining deals a major advantage to the incumbent. It also raises concerns over transparency and fading democracy.

Sonko has a strong base of youth supporters who may react angrily, warned political science researcher Fatou Sarr.

“This threatens peace and stability — his followers could resort to violence and protests,” she said.

Other opposition figures and civil society groups condemned the decisions against Sonko.

“Senegal’s reputation as a democratic leader in Africa is truly being put to the test,” said the head of a Dakar think tank.

One opposition presidential candidate, Thierno Alassane Sall, announced Friday he was dropping out of the race over doubts of its fairness.

Meanwhile, President Macky Sall called for calm. “I understand the disappointment, but violence should not be the response,” he tweeted.

Diplomats from the U.S., France and other countries have raised worries over transparency issues in the upcoming vote. There are only five candidates now running against President Sall.

What’s Next

Legal experts say Sonko is out of options in terms of getting back on the presidential ballot or delaying the existing timeline. The election will proceed as planned on February 25.

Sonko can still support opposition allies and maintain visibility criticizing President Sall ahead of the vote. He also faces additional court cases for rape and tax evasion charges once the election period is over.

If President Sall does secure reelection, he would start a third term amid fears he will attempt to further consolidate power. Term limits were reset when constitutional changes went into effect in 2016, technically allowing Sall two more terms.

Analysts say banning popular opposition figures fuels instability longer-term, even if protests dissipate soon.

“This exclusion of key political enemies may play to Sall’s advantage now but weaken foundations of Senegal’s democratic stability over time,” argued researcher Ibrahima Kane.

The coming weeks will prove pivotal in determining the accepted legitimacy both of the election itself and President Sall’s path forward should he win 5 more years in office.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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