Senegal Amnesty Law Makes Progress Alongside Election

A Slight Ease of Tensions

Senegal’s inflamed tensions at the hands of the nations’ political crisis has made slight progress, as the government proposed amnesty law passes through the Senegalese cabinet. The amnesty law still has some hurdles to jump over, awaiting its passage by the National Assembly. Presently, no date has been set for the National Assembly vote on the law.

It is no guarantee, however, that the law will pass the National Assembly as it has been met with mixed reactions in both opposition and the ruling party.

The amnesty law, proposed by President Macky Sall, will serve to free hundreds of people arrested during political protests since 2021. Many of those arrested were arrested during protests against the arrests and charging of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, but also those arrested during recent protests which protested the government delaying of Presidential elections.

Two protestors pictured in Senegal during protests against the elections delay (Photo from Getty Images).

It remains unclear whether or not opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who has been in prison for several months, could be freed under the amnesty law. While President Sall has stated he is “not opposed” to Sonko’s release, the government has offered no official confirmations that Sonko would be released. However, the law certainly carries provisions which could see his release become a reality.

An Election Delayed

On February 3rd, the Senegalese government announced that it was considering delaying the planned February 25th Presidential elections pending a parliamentary inquiry into the independence of two of the judges on the Constitutional Court. The inquiry was opened after two key opposition candidates, Ousmane Sonko and Karim Wade, were barred from running for President by the Constitutional Court, who presides over the creation of the candidates list.

Ousmane Sonko, thought to be the largest threat to the ruling party, was denied following the upholding of Sonko’s conviction for defamation by the nations’ supreme court on January 4th. The conviction took place initially in March of 2023, where Sonko was handed a two month suspended sentence for the ‘defamation’ of Senegalese Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang, who he had accused of embezzlement. In May, the sentence was extended to six months. While Sonko and his legal team sought to challenge the conviction, it was upheld on January 4th, 2024, which the Constitutional Council said made him ineligible for the Presidential race under Senegalese law.

Karim Wade, another key opposition candidate and son of former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, was barred due to his dual-citizenship with France. Karim renounced his French citizenship prior to running for election, however, and so presently he only holds Senegalese citizenship. Despite him only holding Senegalese citizenship at the time of the candidates list creation, the Constitutional Court still opted to bar him from running.

Karim Wade, the son of former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade (Photo from AFP/Georges Gobet).

On February 5th the government voted to delay the election by 10 months. The February 25th election moved to December 15th. The government stated the delay was in the interest of holding “an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent, and inclusive election”, to potentially see the two candidates, more so Karim Wade, included in the candidates list of 20 Presidential candidates.

Following the vote to delay the election, protests broke out nationwide. There were hefty police crackdowns, with several hundred people being arrested, and several people dying during clashes with police.

On February 15th the Constitutional Court struck down the governments delay, ruling it “unconstitutional”. They stated that, while returning to the February 25th timeline would be “impossible”, that the government should seek to hold the election “as soon as possible”. The court also ordered that President Sall must step down from office on April 2nd, the original date of which his Presidential term is to end. While the President had stated he was not seeking a third term, and has named Prime Minister Amadou Ba as his successor to run for election, under the government plan to delay the election until December 15th he would have remained in office until then.

President Sall conceded to the court, agreed to step down after his term end, and agreed to hold elections as soon as possible. The amnesty law was proposed as a part of the governments attempt to mitigate the political crisis that had brewed in the nation. As a part of such mitigation, the government has also convened several different avenues for national dialogue.

Senegalese President Macky Sall (Photo from Ludovic Marin/AFP).

Despite the governments claims of wanting to hold a fair election, many opponents have accused President Sall and the ruling party of attempting to cling onto power for as long as possible, particularly as it seems more and more likely the opposition may win the election.

Election Proposals

A national dialogue panel, meant to be formed between President Sall and opposition groups, has proposed June 2nd as Senegal’s new election date. While the date has not been formally adopted, it is the first specific date proposed in any dialogue concerning the new election date. Previously, President Sall had merely stated he would seek to hold the election “before the rainy season”, which is in June, without providing many specifics.

The national dialogue panel, which ran across Tuesday and Wednesday, was formed by President Sall in an attempt to speak with opposition groups to mitigate the nations political crisis. However, the majority of opposition candidates refused participation in the panel.

On top of the proposed election date, the dialogue panel proposed a reviewing of the decisions which blocked several opposition candidates. While Karim Wade is likely the key candidate in mind for these reviews, it is again possible that Ousmane Sonko’s blockage could be reviewed as well.

Whether or not the candidates list for the election would remain as is, or potentially be altered to include the candidates that were barred, has been one of the biggest questions left largely unanswered since the Constitutional Court struck down the delay on February 15th.

While this question remains officially unanswered, the panel’s recommendation is a step towards answering it.

Another notable recommendation by the panel, which seeks to answer another unanswered question, is that the panel recommends President Sall remain in office until his successor is sworn in from the eventual election. This is despite the President stating he would step down by his term’s end on April 2nd.

It is presently unclear who exactly would take over in his place if President Sall steps down on April 2nd. What would likely happen is that the Constitutional Court would elect somebody for the position temporarily until a new President is elected. President Sall remaining in office, as the panel recommends, is likely to face staunch opposition from opposing parties if he indeed does so.

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray is a published journalist and historicist with over 5 years experience in writing. His primary focus is on East and West African affairs.


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