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May 22, 2024

Senegal’s Democracy Tested As President Sall Postpones Election

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Feb 4, 2024

Senegal finds itself in uncharted territory this week after President Macky Sall announced an indefinite postponement of the presidential election originally scheduled for February 25th. The move, coming just hours before the official start of campaigning, has ignited protests and condemnation across the country and beyond. What was anticipated to be another strong showing for Senegal’s democratic model now faces its greatest challenge yet.

Election Postponement Sparks Outrage

President Sall cited “controversies” over candidate eligibility as the reason for delaying the vote in the early hours of February 3rd. The announcement came as a shock given Senegal’s reputation as a stable democracy in the region. Opposition leaders were quick to reject the postponement as an “electoral coup” and accused Sall of trying to cling to power beyond his two-term limit [1].

Several opposition figures were recently disqualified from running by the country’s Constitutional Council over convictions or insufficient sponsor signatures [2]. These decisions fueled suspicions that the body lacks true independence from the executive branch under Sall. The continued detention of former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall, believed to be the leading challenger to President Sall before his conviction, has also raised concerns [3].

Protesters clash with police in Dakar over election delay
Protesters clash with police in Dakar over election delay (Credit: AFP)

The postponement announcement triggered demonstrations across Senegal with protesters clashing with riot police. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse hundreds gathered in Dakar and arrested several movement leaders [4]. The government has appealed for calm, but this has so far failed to quell public anger.

Regional Bodies Urge Dialogue

The crisis also elicits strong reactions from international observers invested in Senegal’s regional leadership. The African Union, United Nations, European Union and United States have all expressed concern over Sall’s decision [5].

ECOWAS, the West African bloc to which Senegal belongs, took the firmest stance by calling the postponement “surprising” and “illegal” [6]. The body urged Sall to set a new election date in consultation with the opposition. It remains to be seen whether he will heed these demands.

Senegal was once praised for its seamless transfers of power and robust opposition. February’s election was anticipated to see leadership turnover after Sall’s two terms. Its derailment now raises uncertainty about the country’s trajectory as a democratic success story in West Africa.

Controversies Plague Lead-Up

Controversy over the election built long before Sall’s stunning postponement. Civic groups and the opposition heavily criticized the president’s efforts to secure an easier path to victory.

A series of rulings from the Constitutional Council blocked prominent challengers from running. First was Dakar’s popular ex-mayor Khalifa Sall, believed to be the leading threat to President Sall before his 2018 conviction on corruption charges earned him a five-year sentence [7].

2020 saw the president consolidate power after lawmakers voted to abolish the post of prime minister. Critics derided the move as a tactic to concentrate authority under the executive [8].

Another top challenger, Ousmane Sonko, leader of the opposition Pastef party, saw his own candidacy revoked in early 2023 over failure to meet the sponsor signature requirements [9]. Sonko rejected what he called the electoral body’s “unjust” decision and designated a party successor to represent him in the race [10].

Finally, just weeks ago former Prime Minister Aminata Toure’s candidacy fell after the Council deemed many of her submitted signatures fraudulent [11]. Senegal’s interior ministry announced an investigation into the Council shortly after, heeding calls from Toure’s supporters [12]. But the last-minute timing of the probe did little to instill confidence ahead of voting day.

Challenger Controversy
Khalifa Sall Jailed in 2018 on controversial corruption charges
Ousmane Sonko Disqualified in 2023 over sponsor signatures
Aminata Toure Disqualified in 2024 over fraudulent signatures

This cascade of decisions eroding choice and uncertainty revived fears that Sall was actively restricting rivals to remove viable contenders. For many, his eventual postponement of elections confirmed suspicions that he sought to manipulate the democratic process to remain in power.

What Comes Next?

Senegal now enters politically unstable waters, a first in its recent history. The opposition plans to challenge Sall’s postponement as unconstitutional and continues public demonstrations [13]. They enjoy vocal backing from civil society and activist groups who see the election delay as an affront to hard-won democratic norms [14].

ECOWAS strongly urged Sall to provide a revised election calendar and begin talks with challengers. Their pressure suggests his unilateral postponement violates regional commitments [15]. But Sall has yet to respond on his next steps.

February 25th was to mark the beginning of Senegal’s first transition between two elected presidents since independence in 1960. This watershed moment now slips further from view. As anger continues boiling on Senegal’s streets, the president must act quickly to pull democracy from the brink.

How Sall proceeds – whether through sincere dialogue, transfers of decision-making power, or stubborn refusals – seems pivotal for the country’s future. Senegal long served as a democratic anchor in West Africa. With its very model now cracking under populist pressure, regional stability may hang in the balance.

References

  1. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/4/eu-postponed-senegal-election-opens-period-of-uncertainty
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/03/world/africa/senegal-president-cancels-election.html
  3. https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2024/02/04/senegals-democracy-hangs-by-a-thread
  4. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/senegalese-police-fire-tear-gas-protest-over-election-delay-2024-02-04/
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/02/03/senegal-elections-delay-macky-sall/
  6. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2024/02/choose-new-date-for-senegal-presidential-election-ecowas-tells-sall/amp/
  7. https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2024/02/04/senegals-democracy-hangs-by-a-thread
  8. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/senegal-lawmakers-vote-extend-president-183849242.html
  9. https://www.africanews.com/2024/01/30/ousmane-sonko-chooses-bassirou-diomaye-faye-as-replacement-in-senegals-presidential-race//
  10. https://www.africanews.com/2024/01/30/ousmane-sonko-chooses-bassirou-diomaye-faye-as-replacement-in-senegals-presidential-race//
  11. https://www.scmp.com/news/world/africa/article/3250914/senegals-former-pm-aminata-toure-arrested-opposition-confirms
  12. https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20240201-senegal-to-probe-constitutional-council-s-handling-of-presidential-polls
  13. https://saharareporters.com/2024/02/03/senegal-president-announces-indefinite-postponement-presidential-election
  14. https://twitter.com/KenRoth/status/1754082337380250007
  15. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2024/02/choose-new-date-for-senegal-presidential-election-ecowas-tells-sall/amp/
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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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