Senegalese Election Dates Officially Set

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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End to a Crisis

Opposition groups in Senegal are hailing the official setting of election dates for March 24th as a victory. The election date was announced by Senegalese President Macky Sall after the Constitutional Court declared that the National Dialogue Commission proposed date of June 2nd, two months after President Sall’s term is due to end on April 2nd, would be unconstitutional.

With the announcement of an official date for the election, within the month, President Sall also announced the dissolution of the Senegalese government. Amidst the dissolution, President Sall has replaced Prime Minister Amadou Ba with the Interior Minister, Sidiki Kaba. Amadou Ba was chosen as President Sall’s successor, and is the ruling party’s candidate in the upcoming election. PM Ba was relieved of his position in order for him to focus on campaigning efforts, which are likely to be difficult given the significant popularity issues the ruling party has faced in the last several weeks.

Prime Minister Amadou Ba speaking after he was named the official successor for President Macky Sall (Photo from AFP/Seyllou).

Why did this Start

Senegal for the last month has experienced one of the nations’ worst ever political crises.

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.

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.

Photo is of an opposition protestor in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, on February 4th, 2024 (Photo from AFP).

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 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. However, for several weeks after the election delay was struck down, election dates were not set, bringing yet more protests from civilians and anger from opposition groups.

In an attempt to mitigate the crisis, President Sall opened a National Dialogue Commission which was to hold talks between him and opposition groups. However, the majority of opposition groups refused to participate in the commission. Regardless, the commission produced a potential election date: June 2nd. As previously stated, this election date was ruled unconstitutional by the Senegalese Constitutional Council. Opposition groups opposed the June 2nd date, demanding a date that was before President Sall’s term end on April 2nd, not after.

Election dates being set for March 24th has been widely celebrated amongst the opposition.

Amnesty Law Passed

As another piece of the governments attempts at reconciling the political crisis in the nation, they have proposed, and now passed, an amnesty law in the country. The amnesty law has the ability to pardon charges related to political issues, in particular charges incurred during protests and other demonstrations, since 2021.

Pictured is a protest in favour of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko (Photo from AFP).

Last week the Senegalese Council of Ministers approved the law, and yesterday on March 6th Senegal’s parliament voted to pass the law as well. The law has been met with mixed reactions both within the ruling party as well as opposition groups.

Notably, it carries with it the capacity to free Ousmane Sonko, the primary opposition leader, as well as Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Sonko’s chosen successor who, despite being on the Presidential candidates list, has been in jail for several months. It is unclear if the passage of the law means Sonko will be freed, or Bassirou, however it is likely to include several hundred protestors and opposition figures who have been arrested over the last three years.

The law also carries with it the capacity to excuse violent actions taken by police during protests, which led to dozens of casualties during protests in the last several years, including three fatalities in recent protests in February against the election delays, which have thus far gone unpunished. Those opposed to the law fear that it could allow police who had killed people during protests to continue to go unpunished.

Problems Unsolved

At the core of the governments stated reasons for the election delays was the barring of key opposition figures. When they delayed the election, it was presumed that, pending the parliamentary inquiry into the independence of two Constitutional Court judges, that a new candidates list would be formed.

When the governments delays were struck down, it became unclear if the election would move ahead with the already existing list, or would seek to create a new one which included more opposition candidates.

With election dates now set for in just a few weeks, no new list has been created, and it would appear that Karim Wade and Ousmane Sonko are remaining off the ballot.

In addition to this, Bassirou presently remains in jail. Within Senegal’s constitution are previsions that are to allow every candidate equal opportunity for campaigning, which is now underway. Sonko, when he named Bassirou as his successor, attempted to appeal to this provision, however Bassirou has yet to have been freed.

Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye, a candidate in Senegal’s 2024 Presidential election.

Despite being in jail, Bassirou has enjoyed widespread popularity as Sonko’s chosen candidate.