Police and protesters clash after Senegal election postponed

AFP , Sunday 4 Feb 2024

Protesters and police clashed in the Senegalese capital Dakar and at least one senior opposition figure was arrested Sunday, a day after President Macky Sall announced the indefinite postponement of the presidential election.

Senegal protests
Senegalese police officers stand in formation on a road blocked with burning barricades during demonstrations called by the opposition parties in Dakar on February 4, 2024. AFP


The poll had been set for February 25 and Sall has not announced any new date, sparking a wave of criticism from opposition leaders and international concern.

In his statement Saturday Sall said he was intervening because of a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court over the rejection of candidates.

Lawmakers are investigating two Constitutional Council judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned.

Sall promised to ensure "a free, transparent and inclusive election", but did not set a new date for the vote.

Hundreds of men and women of all ages took to the streets Sunday, heeding the call of some opposition candidates.

Waving Senegalese flags or sporting the jersey of the national football team, they converged in the early afternoon at a roundabout on one of the capital's main roads.

Police responded with tear gas and then pursued the fleeing protesters through adjoining streets, while some demonstrators responded by throwing rocks.

Youths shouting "Macky Sall, dictator!" set up makeshift barricades and burned tyres in the streets.

Opposition mobilises

Former prime minister Aminata Toure, now a leading opposition figure, was arrested while arriving at one protest.

She posted on X, formerly Twitter, that she had been arrested and opposition deputy Guy Marius Sagna confirmed this to AFP. Toure served as prime minister under Sall before joining the opposition and becoming one of his most outspoken critics.

Denouncing his decision to postpone the election, she described it as an "unprecedented democratic regression" in a post on X Saturday, calling on people to mobilise to defend their rights.

Other opposition leaders and presidential candidates also denounced Sall's decision.

Habib Sy, one of the 20 candidates, said opposition parties had met and agreed to launch their election campaigns together.

Another opposition figure, former mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall, called for pro-democratic forces to unite.

"All of Senegal must stand up," he told journalists.

Sall, who is not related to the president, denounced "a constitutional coup" by a leader who "dreams of eternity".

The RFM opposition party said it "systematically" rejected the postponement.

Under Senegal's election code, at least 80 days must pass between publication of the decree setting the date and the election, so the earliest a vote could now be held is late April.

International concern

The United States, the European Union and former colonial master France led appeals for the vote to be rescheduled at the earliest date.

The EU called for a prompt, transparent, inclusive and credible election, spokesperson Nabila Massrali noting that the delay "opens a period of uncertainty".

France's foreign ministry urged authorities to "end the uncertainty... so the vote can be held as soon as possible".

The US State Department, one of the first to react, called on Senegal to set a date for a "timely, free and fair election".

The West African bloc ECOWAS issued a statement expressing concern and calling for dialogue.

Senegal has traditionally been seen as a rare example of democratic stability in West Africa, hit by a series of coups in recent years in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

It is the first time a Senegalese presidential election has been postponed.

There had been 20 candidates in the running, although two major opposition figures had already been excluded.

Sall on Saturday reiterated that he would not be a candidate.

Excluded candidates

President Sall had designated Prime Minister Amadou Ba from his party as his would-be successor.

But with the party split over his candidacy, Ba faced possible defeat in the ballot box.

Anti-establishment candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye has emerged as a potential winner, despite being behind bars.

His candidacy was approved by authorities, making him the first imprisoned candidate to contest a Senegalese election.

And yet, the Constitutional Council has excluded dozens of candidates from the vote, including opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who has been jailed since July 2023, and Karim Wade, son of former president Abdoulaye Wade.

Wade's supporters in the National Assembly called for a parliamentary inquiry into the partiality of two judges on the Constitutional Court.

That motion was passed by the Assembly on January 31, with some members of Sall's party supporting it.

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