Senegal has been gripped in protest since Saturday, February 3rd, after President Macky Sall announced the governments intention to hold a vote on whether or not to delay the election. This vote was held today, in which the government delayed the election by 10 months, until December 15th. Previously, the election was to be held on February 25th.
The vote, however, was held under rather concerning circumstances. Notably, opposition lawmakers were escorted out of parliament by police during the voting process. The vote, and the removal of opposition parliamentarians, has been met with intensified protests throughout the nation, particularly in the capital of Dakar.
??| Senegalese parliament votes to postpone elections with forced evacuation of opposition MPs
— Casus Belli (@casusbellii) February 5, 2024
In response to the protests, the government has ordered the restriction of cellular data in Dakar in order to prevent “threats and disturbances to public order”. This move mirrors those taken by the government in former years during heavy protests throughout the nation, during which they also heavily cut internet access. Most recently, internet was restricted following the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on July 31st, 2023. During these protests tik-tok was also banned.
?? Confirmed: Traffic data show mobile internet access has been limited in #Senegal as president Macky Sall’s government orders the restriction cellular data in capital Dakar to prevent "threats and disturbances to public order" amid protests over the postponement of elections ? pic.twitter.com/coneTCezva
— NetBlocks (@netblocks) February 5, 2024
Notably, the government has also ordered Senegalese TV station “Walf TV” off the air, due to what they say was “incitement to violence” due to the station covering the protests.
The large protests, situation in parliament, and uncertainty regarding the nations’ future democratic processes has lead some to fear a potential rise in instability in Senegal, typically thought to be one of the stronger democracies in West Africa.
Originally the length of extension being publicly discussed was six months, as per statements from government ministers. It is unclear why the government opted to extend the election for 10 months rather than the announced six.
Why the Delay..?
President Macky Sall stated that the delay in the election was for the government to pursue “an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent, and inclusive election”. This comes after two key opposition leaders were barred from participating in the election by the nations’ Constitutional Court, who presided over the creation of the list of 20 Presidential candidates.
Ousmane Sonko, the primary opposition leader, was barred from the list due to the upholding by the Supreme Court of a defamation conviction, which the Constitutional Court said rendered him legally ineligible.
Karim Wade, another key opposition leader and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, the predecessor to President Macky Sall, was also barred from the election due to his dual citizenship with France.
The ruling party has stated, both running up to and during the vote to delay the election, that the delay has been an attempt to include opposition figures that are barred from the election, moreso referring to Karim rather than Sonko. However, many have viewed the move as an attempt for the ruling party to delay the election because they fear losing it, and seek to cling on to power as long as possible.
President Macky Sall is not running for a third term, and has named Amadou Ba, the current Prime Minister, as his successor. Division amongst the ruling party on the PM’s candidacy, mixed with the sharply increasing popularity of opposition candidates, has increased the likelihood of an opposition victory.
A likely winner is Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar, the named successor to Ousmane Sonko. Sonko was previously thought to be the largest threat to the ruling party, witnessing significant levels of support from Senegalese youth. With him barred from the election, he has named Bassirou as his successor, who appears to be witnessing similar levels of support, despite Bassirou presently being in jail, having been in provisional detention since April.
The coming weeks could spell trouble for Senegal. The delay is the very first time that Senegal has delayed a Presidential election. Senegal has traditionally been one of the more stable nations not only within West Africa, but Africa as a whole, being one of the few nations in Africa that has not had a coup since gaining independence. The situation is made particularly precarious due to the string of coups witnessed across West Africa in recent years, including in some nations formerly viewed as “democratic bastions”.
As such, international pressure has grown upon Senegal to hold the election as soon as possible. The EU, US, African Union, ECOWAS, and France have all individually called upon the government to exercise dialogue, and hold the election sooner rather than later.
Previous protests in Senegal have led to a number of people being killed, meaning the present protests equally have the capacity to turn deadly.
It is unclear at this time if the delay in the election will allow for Presidential candidates barred from the February 25th election to participate in the December election. Until then, however, President Macky Sall remains in power in what opposition politicians have called a “constitutional coup”.