Senegalese President Macky Sall on Saturday announced the indefinite postponement of the presidential election scheduled for February 25, just hours before official campaigning was due to start.
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In an address to the nation, Sall said he had signed a decree abolishing a previous measure that set the date as lawmakers investigate two Constitutional Council judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned. “I will begin an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election,” Sall added without giving a new date.
Under the country’s election code, at least 80 days must pass between the publication of the decree and the election, which means the earliest it could now be held is late April.
It is the first time that Senegal has delayed a presidential vote. Its four largely peaceful transitions of power via the ballot box since independence from France in 1960 have built up its reputation as one of West Africa‘s most stable democracies.
Last month, the Constitutional Council approved 20 candidates but disqualified dozens of others from the race, including opposition leaders Ousmane Sonko and Karim Wade. Wade was barred from running because he allegedly also holds French citizenship, a decision he denounced as “scandalous”.
Sall reiterated Saturday that he will not be a candidate. He had repeatedly said he would hand over power in early April to the winner of the vote. After announcing he would not run for a third term as president, Sall designated Prime Minister Amadou Ba from his party as his would-be successor. But with his party split over his candidacy, Ba faced possible defeat in the elections.
Just hours after Sall’s announcement, Abdou Latif Coulibaly, the Secretary General of the government who has acted as its spokesman, announced his resignation. He was quitting because he wanted to have “full and complete freedom” to defend his political convictions, Coulibaly said in a statement.
‘All of Senegal must stand up,’ opposition figure Khalifa Sall says
The US State Department urged Senegal to “swiftly” set a date for a “timely, free and fair election” in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “We acknowledge allegations of irregularities, but we are deeply concerned about the disruption to the presidential electoral calendar,” the department’s Bureau of African Affairs posted.
Senegal has a strong tradition of democracy and peaceful transitions of power. We acknowledge allegations of irregularities, but we are deeply concerned about the disruption to the Presidential electoral calendar.
— Bureau of African Affairs (@AsstSecStateAF) February 3, 2024
The opposition Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), whose candidate Karim Wade was among those excluded from running, had formally requested a postponement on Friday.
But other oppposition figures have aleady expressed their disapproval of the president’s decision. Former mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall – which has no relation to President Macky Sall – called for pro-democratic forces to unite against the decision. “All of Senegal must stand up,” he told journalists.”All democratic political forces and civil society should unite so that this project does not succeed.”
One opposition leader, Thierno Alassane Sall, denounced what he called “high treason towards the Republic” in a post on X, formerly Twitter. He called on “patriots and republicans” to oppose it.
El Malick Ndiaye, former spokesman of the now-disbanded opposition party once led by the now jailed Ousmane Sonko, also denounced the decision. “This is not a delay of the election, but a cancellation pure and simple,” he wrote on Facebook.
Inquiry on Constitutional Council
Senegal‘s parliament on Wednesday approved a commission of inquiry into the workings of the Constitutional Council – the body which both finalises the list of candidates and announces the winner of the election.
The excluded candidates, who include opposition firebrand Ousmane Sonko, say the rules for candidacy were not applied fairly. The authorities deny this.
Many MPs from the president’s own party unexpectedly voted in favour of the inquiry, fuelling speculation that they could be trying to delay a vote they fear losing.
The campaign to establish an inquiry was launched by disqualified candidate Wade. He has accused two of the seven members of the Constitutional Council of having links with presidential hopefuls, including Prime Minister Amadou Ba, endorsed by the outgoing president.
Before the president’s speech, the influential League of Imams and Preachers of Senegal on Saturday warned of the dangers of postponement and appealed directly to President Sall to take steps to avoid fuelling instability.
“Any attempt to postpone the elections would be fraught with pointless risks,” it said in a statement. “As Senegal is stable in all respects and on track for elections, the wisest decision for the head of state would be to do everything possible to ensure that free and transparent elections are held.”
Senegalese voters are due to choose a successor to President Sall, who is not seeking a third term. For the first time in Senegal’s history, the incumbent is not on the ballot. His handpicked successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, is among 20 candidates cleared by the constitutional council to run.
Meanwhile, Rose Wardini, one of only two women in the approved list of candidates, was detained Friday on charges of allegedly hiding her French citizenship, according to judicial sources.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP & Reuters)