Senegal moves towards certainty for presidential vote

AFP , Thursday 7 Mar 2024

Senegal on Thursday looked set to elect a new president at the end of March and ease the crisis triggered by the delay to the presidential poll, but the exact date of the vote remained uncertain.

A supporter of the President of Senegal Macky Sall and presidential candidate Amadou Ba holds up a flyer carrying his portrait during a march for peace in Dakar on March 3, 2024. AFP


President Macky Sall plunged Senegal into one of its worst crises in decades with his last-minute postponement of the election, originally scheduled for February 25.

The vote delay triggered widespread outcry at home and abroad and unleashed protests which left four people dead.

The traditionally stable West African nation is now re-embarking on what is perhaps its most open presidential vote in modern history.

There have been some potentially significant developments in the meantime.

The adoption of a controversial amnesty law late Wednesday could see anti-establishment opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye released from prison to campaign.

But there is still confusion over the date of the first-round vote.

Sall late Wednesday set March 24 as the date, while Senegal's top constitutional body said it should take place on March 31.

Either way, the election would happen before Sall's mandate ends on April 2, which was one of the key drivers of the turmoil.

Babacar Gueye, one of the leaders of a major civil society collective opposed to the election delay, told AFP he expected the Constitutional Council to "align itself" with the presidency, even though the decision of the council should in theory prevail.

Gueye added that March 31 would fall on Easter Sunday, affecting Senegal's significant Christian community.

March also coincides with the Muslim month of Ramadan.

'Exceptional situation'

Gueye dismissed the objection that the new electoral timetable would not respect the required 21-day campaigning period.

"All that is part of a normal situation, but here we are in an exceptional situation," he said.

The new timetable "is the victory of all the people who wanted to go to an election of which they were deprived," he added.

Sall had on Monday asked the Constitutional Council for its opinion on recommendations resulting from a "national dialogue" which he had convened to try and find a way out of the turmoil.

The dialogue had recommended elections be held on June 2 and suggested Sall remain in office until his successor was installed.

Senegal's Constitutional Council on Wednesday rejected this proposal.

It also dismissed the recommendation that the candidate list be re-examined, saying the presidential race should include the list of 19 candidates already approved.

Sall, in power since 2012, said he called off the vote due to disputes over the disqualification of potential candidates and fears of a return to the unrest seen in 2021 and 2023.


In a bid to escape the crisis and calm public opinion, Sall had proposed a bill granting an amnesty for acts committed in connection with political demonstrations since 2021.

Senegal witnessed several episodes of deadly unrest triggered in particular by a bitter stand-off between now-imprisoned opposition figure Ousmane Sonko and the state.

Lawmakers late Wednesday adopted the law.

Questions had swirled around whether an amnesty would be applied to Sonko, and what this would mean for his possible return to the presidential race.

But the decision of the Constitutional Council to keep the candidate list the same ruled out a comeback by Sonko.

His party's deputy, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, is also in prison but has been approved to stand in the presidential race.

Faye appears eligible for release following the adoption of the amnesty law, but there has been no indication as to whether or when this would happen.

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