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What is happening in Senegal, could tensions escalate?

February 8, 2024
What is happening in Senegal and could tensions escalate?
Protest against postponement Feb. 25 presidential election in Dakar, Senegal | Reuters

faces a constitutional crisis following the ruling that the postponement of the presidential election from February 25 to December 15 is unconstitutional. The authorities, under President Macky Sall, are now urged to swiftly reschedule the vote before Sall's term ends on April 2, avoiding potential unrest and accusations of authoritarian overreach in one of 's more stable democracies.

Why the Postponement?

President Sall, 62, who is not seeking re-election due to term limits, cited a dispute over the candidate list and alleged within the constitutional council as reasons for the delay. He expressed concerns that the troubled conditions could compromise the credibility of the ballot, prompting the unexpected decision to postpone.

The Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), an opposition party whose candidate faced exclusion due to dual nationality issues, supported the delay. The PDS proposed a postponement bill in before President Sall's public address.

Opposition and Civil Society Response

While the PDS supported the delay, other opposition parties and civil society groups vehemently rejected it. Accusations of an “institutional coup” aimed at extending President Sall's tenure emerged. Legal challenges to the delay were filed by several presidential candidates and a group of opposition lawmakers, further intensifying the political standoff.

Significance of the Delay

Senegal's history is marked by peaceful transitions of power through the ballot since gaining independence in 1960, earning its reputation as one of West Africa's strongest democracies. The abrupt postponement contradicts this electoral tradition, disappointing those who expected Senegal to maintain its democratic course. The delay also stands out in a region where military takeovers and constitutional manoeuvres have threatened democracy in recent years.

What's Next?

The Economic Community of West African States (), opposition leaders, and Western partners have called on the authorities to accept the constitutional council's ruling and proceed with the election. The council has urged the authorities to conduct the election at the earliest opportunity. President Sall is required to issue a decree setting a new date for the election, and as of now, compliance from the presidency and government is awaited. The unfolding situation will test Senegal's commitment to democratic principles amid growing concerns about the stability of its political landscape.

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