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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Is a radical change imminent in Senegal’s presidential election?

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Dr Ebrima Ceesay

Senegal is likely to face a historic turning point in its presidential election as the hegemonic (dominant) political parties could lose power to a new generation of anti-system leaders for the first time since the country attained independence in 1960.  In effect, Senegalese voters headed to the polls yesterday in what is expected to be one of the closest presidential elections since the country first allowed a full multi-party vote in 1981.

The key question is whether Senegalese voters will once again elect a pro-system presidential candidate (frontrunner Amadou Ba) from the ruling class – the hegemonic (dominant) political parties – which have run the country since independence, or back another frontrunner Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the presidential candidate of the anti-system Pastef party under the charismatic leadership of Ousmane Sonko.

The following questions arise: Are Senegalese voters going to ditch the old in favour of the new? Are Senegalese voters bracing themselves for a Bassirou Diomaye Faye presidency this time around? Is Senegal ready to elect a replacement candidate? (Pastef’s Plan B). Or is Senegal closer to continuity than change? Will “the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know” eventually play out in Sunday’s presidential election?

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From my vantage point, it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of Senegalese voters want a radical or complete break with the past. Ousmane Sonko and the President Diomaye Coalition 2024 presented a sovereigntist project which calls for monetary autonomy, among other things, to free Senegal from the CFA Franc currency and French domination. Such a sovereigntist project is not only popular in Senegal but across Francophone Africa where Ousmane Sonko is seen as a breath of fresh air – an avant-garde politician for that matter. Indeed, Ousmane Sonko has a massive following in other Francophone African countries.

Clearly, Senegalese voters appear to want a complete rupture in the presidential election, but will the break-up or rupture vote be enough to ensure the victory of Bassirou Diomaye Faye?

With a total voter population of 7,371,894, only 13 per cent (about 1,000,000 voters) are under the age of 35 years old. The rest of the voters – over 6,000,000 – are over 35 years old. Therefore, this suggests to me that the core Pastef supporters or voters, made up, to a large extent, of young people, will not be enough to guarantee victory (on their own). Consequently, the swing voters will make the difference in the presidential election.

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In my view, these swing or floating voters will tip the presidential election to one candidate or the other. To this end, whoever among the two frontrunners – Bassirou Diomaye Faye and Amadou Ba – can appeal to (and attract) a broader electorate is likely to win the presidential election.

However, I think that by all accounts, the 2024 presidential election is still Bassirou Diomaye Faye’s to lose (even though he is slightly error prone in some of his communications) because the overwhelming majority of Senegalese voters want to free the country from its rotten political system. Yet, having said that, Bassirou Diomaye Faye could also lose the presidential election, because there are still substantial floating/swing voters – persuadable voters – to be won over by either side.

While on one hand, it is evident that the strong wind of change is blowing in Senegal and could be irresistible in the end, yet, Amadou Ba, on the other hand, can also win the presidential election by default, in the absence of a better alternative, for lack of a better word.

Speaking with the benefit of hindsight, I for one think remaining in prison would have been Bassirou Diomaye Faye’s ultimate triumph card. Remaining in prison would have won Bassirou Diomaye Faye the core Pastef vote, in addition to the sympathy, swing votes as it would have allowed him to mask some of his shortcomings and prima facie limitations which were evident once he began his political campaign.

For instance, it seems to me that it is a misnomer to clone Bassirou Diomaye Faye as Ousmane Sonko (Diomaye Moy Sonko as in Wolof) because Bassirou Diomaye Faye is definitely not Ousmane Sonko. The differences between the two are like day and night. Unfortunately, Bassirou does not have neither the stature, oratory skills, charisma, nor the personality of Ousmane Sonko. Don’t get me wrong here. Bassirou also has other strengths that Sonko does not have.

For example, at the beginning of the campaign, Bassirou Diomaye Faye himself said he did not understand the Diomaye 2024 programme as it was designed in haste and without consultation and that he did not have adequate time to review the programme as he was in prison at the time.

Furthermore, Casamance is also an emotional subject in Senegal having always had a special place in the psyche of Senegalese. So, by insinuating that the capital of Senegal could be moved to Casamance under his presidency, Bassirou Diomaye Faye unwittingly opened a Pandora’s Box. Yet, Bassirou could still carry the day, as it were, despite his imperfections, because the overwhelming Senegalese voters are fed-up with pro-system politicians – the ruling class – and therefore, wish to turn the page and start a new chapter.

Against this backdrop, from my vantage point, if the ruling coalition’s candidate Amadou Ba were to win the presidential election, it is rather because the opposition Pastef party has thrown it away, to put it in plain English. In other words, the 2024 presidential election would not have been won by the ruling party’s candidate Amadou Ba, but rather it would have been lost by the opposition Pastef party.

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