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Senegal: President Macky Sall’s dangerous game

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Sall’s announcement on Saturday that he would postpone the election scheduled for February 25 marks a break with the country’s long democratic history.

In a West Africa shaken by the advance of jihadism, military coups and Russian interference, Senegal is an exception. Since its independence in 1960, the army has never threatened the government, and genuine freedom of expression nurtures a dynamic political debate that has led to two peaceful political alternations within a relatively stable institutional framework. So the surprise announcement on Saturday, February 3, by President Macky Sall, three weeks before the presidential election scheduled for February 25, that the vote would be postponed indefinitely, marks a dangerous break with a long democratic history. Since 1963, presidential elections in Senegal have always been held on the scheduled date.

It was already alarming to see Sall, who was elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2019, keep the country hanging for a long time over his intention to run for a third term – in defiance of the constitution. By formally renouncing the idea in July, he seemed to have listened to the anger on the streets. Riots, which were violently repressed, had broken out in June as people protested against the prospect of him running again and against the criminal conviction of Ousmane Sonko, the popular leader of an anti-corruption party with an anti-France message.

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The brutal banning of Sonko’s party at the end of July, leading to his ban from running as a candidate, marked a new crackdown. The strong score predicted for Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Sonko’s replacement, and the poor campaign performance of Prime Minister Amadou Ba, the president’s designated successor, seem to have pushed Sall to shake things up.

It seems as if the president favors the candidacy, rejected by the Constitutional Council, of Karim Wade, son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, who had been imprisoned for “illicit enrichment” in 2015 and was later pardoned by the current president. A French national at the time of his candidacy, Wade Jr. was disqualified under the law which prohibits candidates from holding a nationality other than Senegalese.

To justify the postponement of the election, Sall points to the members – close to Wade – of the National Assembly questioning the integrity of the constitutional judges who invalidated his candidacy, and appears to support their move.

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Sall risks generating unrest

Here’s the situation: An incumbent president is using MPs to question the judges responsible for validating candidacies to succeed him. By triggering this institutional crisis in defiance of the separation of powers, Sall claims to be trying to avoid the unrest that could result from a disputed election result. At a time when the country is on edge, due to his actions and an increasingly radical opposition, in a context of endemic poverty where young people are left with no prospects other than emigration, in reality he risks generating such unrest himself. On Sunday protesters took to the streets of Dakar to demonstrate against the cancellation of the February ballot, where they were met by the forces of law and order.

Sall’s failure to indicate a new date for the postponed elections raises the specter of his remaining in power beyond his term of office, which ends on April 2. That this possibility has arisen in a country that has been a beacon of democracy in a volatile region is cause for alarm over the durability of the “Senegalese model.” It will also be relished by the military governments in neighboring countries, who remain in power without even bothering to hold elections.

Culled from Le Monde

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