16.9 C
New York

How Senegal’s presidential election was postponed, reinstated and moved up

Published:

Voters in Senegal go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president in the most wide-open election in the country’s history. The vote comes a few weeks after the explosion of a profound political crisis triggered by its cancellation and then delay by President Macky Sall. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at recent events.

Senegal is set to experience a new stage in its electoral drama on Sunday as some 7 million voters go to the polls across the West African country to elect their next president.

The election is remarkable in several ways, not least because it marks the end of President Macky Sall’s 12 years in power. And with 17 candidates vying to succeed him, it is the most wide-open presidential vote since Senegal gained independence from France in 1960.

It also marks the culmination of an intense political battle over the date of the polls, which began when Sall cancelled the election three weeks before its initial date of February 25, sending shock waves throughout Senegal. FRANCE 24 traces the key developments during the democratic crisis that ensued. 

Postponement of the vote

Sall announced that the ballot would be postponed indefinitely while speaking on national television on February 3, just a few hours before the start of the presidential campaign.

“For the past few days, our country has been faced with a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council, in open conflict over an alleged case of corruption of judges,” he said, arguing that this situation threatened the credibility of the vote.

FRANCE 24 Special Edition: Senegal vote postponed ‘indefinitely’

Senegalese President Macky Sall postponed the country's presidential elections

Senegalese President Macky Sall postponed the country’s presidential elections © FRANCE 24 screengrab

Senegalese lawmakers four days earlier approved a parliamentary inquiry into how some potential candidates’ applications to enter the race had been invalidated. The inquiry was called for by the party of Karim Wade, who was excluded from the contest due to his French citizenship, as only citizens of exclusively Senegalese nationality are allowed to run. Wade’s supporters said they suspected two Constitutional Council judges of having “dubious connections” with some candidates, notably Prime Minister Amadou Ba, Sall’s preferred successor.

At the same time, police took presidential candidate Rose Wardini, whose application had been validated by the Constitutional Council, into custody on charges of “forgery, use of forgery and fraud” on suspicion of having dual French-Senegalese nationality.

A political manoeuvre?

Sall said on national TV that “these troubled conditions” could “sow the seeds of pre- and post-electoral dispute”.

“Our country cannot afford a new crisis” after episodes of violence in March 2021 and June 2023, he said.

Sall announced the establishment of a “national dialogue” for “a free, transparent and inclusive election”, while reaffirming his commitment not to stand for a third consecutive term.

But Sall’s decision to postpone the vote sparked many questions in Senegal, not least because ruling party MPs themselves had voted in favour of the parliamentary inquiry. While these legislators said they wanted to clear the name of their candidate Amadou Ba, the opposition blasted a manoeuvre designed to torpedo the election and prevent his defeat. 

Ba is also facing two dissident candidates from within his own camp: former prime minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne and former interior minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye.

But general opinion in Senegal holds that Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a candidate chosen by opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to replace him after his own candidacy was invalidated, poses the main threat to the outgoing president’s preferred candidate.

Reacting to Sall’s decision to postpone the election, lawyer and Faye supporter Amadou Ba (not to be confused with the prime minister) criticised the president’s arguments as “incredibly unserious”, pointing out that the parliamentary commission of inquiry was set up only on “mere suspicions” of corruption.

The day after Sall’s televised speech, hundreds of Senegalese demonstrated in the capital Dakar, where clashes broke out with police.

Lawmakers approve December polls

To cancel the February 25 election, Sall repealed a decree summoning the electorate. All that remained was to set a new date. Wade’s coalition called for a six-month postponement and submitted a bill to parliament. During a particularly tense session, lawmakers on February 5 approved December 15 as the new election date, judging the initially proposed date of August 25 to be unfit due to the rainy season.

The new deadline meant that Sall’s mandate, due to end on April 2, would be extended by 10 months. Many people in Senegal objected, denouncing a “constitutional coup d’état” enabling the president to hold on to power. 

Read moreSenegal’s democratic record on the line as presidential vote delay sparks crisis

Several presidential candidates lodged appeals with the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Council to block the postponement of the vote. 

Tensions quickly escalated in the streets. Police cracked down on demonstrations organised across Senegal on February 9 and in the days that followed. Four people died in Dakar, Saint-Louis and Ziguinchor – the southern town where Sonko was elected mayor in 2022 – in connection with the protests, the worst outbreak of violence during the election crisis.

Constitutional Council rules against postponement

The Constitutional Council on February 15 delivered its verdict on the appeal of the election postponement, and it was a clear blow to Sall: the court annulled his decree abrogating the vote for lack of legal basis. The council also found that the law adopted by parliament to postpone the vote violated the constitution, a second no-go.

Noting “the impossibility of organising the presidential election on the initially scheduled date” of February 25, the Constitutional Council asked “the competent authorities to hold it as soon as possible”.

The “national dialogue” organised by Sall but boycotted by the opposition recommended in early March that the delayed vote take place on June 2. In that scenario, Sall would remain in office until the inauguration of Senegal’s fifth president. The proposal was rejected by the Constitutional Council, which ruled that the election must occur before the end of Sall’s term on April 2.

The president and the council on March 7 finally agreed to hold Senegal’s election on March 24. The new date has the advantage of not falling on the Easter holiday, but meant that the presidential campaign unfolded during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – a first in Senegal’s history. The campaign period was also shortened from 21 to 17 days.

As part of an amnesty law passed by parliament a week earlier, Sonko and his replacement candidate Faye were released from prison on March 14 to rapturous celebrations by their supporters in the streets of Dakar.

On the following day, a final petition from Wade’s camp seeking to ban the ballot on the grounds that it would occur too soon was rejected by the Supreme Court, thus removing the last potential obstacle to the presidential election on Sunday.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

Related articles

Recent articles

spot_img