The vote to delay Senegal’s presidential election until December “cannot be considered legitimate”, the US state department said, after the move plunged the normally stable West African nation into its worst crisis in decades.
The reaction is the most critical to date from one of Senegal’s major international allies, after the delay to the February 25 poll sparked growing concern both at home and abroad.
Lawmakers voted almost unanimously in favour of the postponement on Monday night, but only after security forces stormed the chamber and removed some opposition deputies, who were unable to cast their votes.
“The United States is deeply concerned by actions taken to delay Senegal’s February 25 presidential election, which run contrary to Senegal’s strong democratic tradition,” Matthew Miller, a US state department spokesman, said in a statement published Tuesday.
“We are particularly alarmed by reports of security forces removing by force parliamentarians who opposed a bill to delay the election, resulting in a National Assembly vote that cannot be considered legitimate given the conditions under which it took place”.
The contentious vote paves the way for President Macky Sall — whose second term was due to expire in early April — to remain in office until his successor is installed, probably in 2025.
Opposition members have said the country has been taken “hostage” and denounced the move as a “constitutional coup”.
It is the first time that Senegalese voters, who were due to elect their fifth president on February 25, head to the ballot box almost 10 months later than planned.
“The United States urges the Government of Senegal to move forward with its presidential election in accordance with the Constitution and electoral laws,” Miller said.
The West African bloc ECOWAS said Tuesday it “encourages” member state Senegal to urgently restore the electoral timetable, adding it was following events “with concern”.
Senegal is often viewed as a bastion of stability in the volatile region and has never experienced a coup since gaining independence from France in 1960.
The US state department also called on Senegal’s government to respect freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression, including for members of the press.
Authorities on Monday cut access to mobile internet in the capital Dakar, citing the dissemination of “hateful and subversive messages” on social media, later restoring it again on Wednesday morning.
It was a repeat of a move last June, where the government restricted mobile data amid high tensions in the country, and has become a common response to curb mobilisation and communication via social networks.
Security forces in Dakar have used tear gas to repress the sporadic street protests that have materialised, although the mood on the street has so far not reflected the widespread outcry seen on social media.
The opposition and members of the press have reported dozens of arrests.
Three legislators who were either members or allies of dissolved opposition party, PASTEF, were arrested on Tuesday and later released, two party officials told AFP.
PASTEF had been at the forefront of a bitter stand-off with the state in 2021 and 2023.
Authorities dissolved the party in 2023 and imprisoned its leaders, Ousmane Sonko and Bassirou Diomaye Faye.
Senegal’s Constitutional Council rejected anti-establishment firebrand Sonko’s bid to run in the 2024 presidential election.
But it approved the candidacy of Faye, who emerged as a possible contender for victory — a nightmare scenario for the presidential camp.
PASTEF and a number of opposition candidates have said they would continue campaigning after Monday’s vote to delay the presidential poll, although coherent mobilisation is yet to be seen.
President Sall said he postponed the vote because of a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council over the rejection of candidates, and for fears of unrest as seen in 2021 and 2023.
But the opposition suspects the delay is part of a plan by the presidential camp to avoid defeat, or even to extend Sall’s term in office, despite him re-iterating on Saturday he would not stand again.