Opposition to Win Senegalese Election

“A Victory for Senegalese Democracy”

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the primary Senegalese opposition candidate, is set to win the Senegalese Presidential election after the ruling party’s candidate, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, has conceded the election.

While official results are not going to be announced until Friday, incoming polling shows Bassirou is likely to secure a majority. This would make him Senegal’s fifth and youngest ever President, at 44 years old.

Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye’s announcement declaring his victory in the Senegalese Presidential Election (Photo from Bassirou Diomaye Faye L’officiel on Facebook, translated by google translate).

The PM’s concession was joined by a number of other opposition candidates who also conceded as results came in.

The victory of Senegal’s opposition represents a significant shift in Senegal. Bassirou is an anti-establishment candidate with no governing experience, however he has used this to his advantage, claiming that the career politicians who have led the nation since it’s independence have failed the nation.

Soon to be President-Elect Faye has promised to tackle youth unemployment in the country, a large problem in Senegal where more than half of the population is 25 years old or younger. He also promises to renegotiate oil, energy, mining, and defence contracts with foreign companies, a potential departure from the West African Franc (a regional currency which is tied to the Euro and backed by France. Bassirou’s key supporter, Ousmane Sonko, has said the departure will only happen if the currency is unable to be reformed), as well as a re-examination with the nations’ relationship with France, their former colonial power.

Senegal is set to start producing oil later this year, and there have been concerns amongst much of the populace that the projects will fail to generate significant employment opportunities for Senegalese citizens, and that it will also fail to provide economic benefit to the people. These oil contracts are key to the contracts Bassirou is seeking to renegotiate, in order to further benefit the people.

Youth unemployment and general poverty will be pivotal to Bassirou’s time as President. Many of the youth within Senegal have felt ignored by incumbent President Macky Sall, who failed to properly tackle the problem, particularly within traditional opposition areas that have gone notedly underdeveloped.

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

Additionally, Bassirou has promised to reduce the powers of the Presidency, re-instate the position of the Vice President, and tackle corruption within the nation.

Congratulations for Bassirou have already began to pour in, including from PM Ba and President Sall, who referred to Bassirou’s victory as “a victory for Senegalese democracy.”

According to the Senegalese constitution, President’s are limited to two terms. Due to this, President Sall did not run for re-election and named PM Ba as his successor for the election, in accordance to the constitution.

Ruling party candidate Prime Minister Amadou Ba pictured casting his vote in Dakar, the Senegalese capital on March 24th, 2024 (Photo from Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP).

Bassirou enjoyed the support of a number of different influential people, including President Sall’s predecessor, former President Abdoulaye Wade, and his son Karim Wade, who is the head of an influential party within Senegal. Most notedly, however, was the support of Ousmane Sonko.

From the Background to the Presidency

Until about a year ago, Bassirou was largely unknown within Senegal. Although he was one of the most prominent members of Sonko’s PASTEF party, he largely went unseen in the eyes of many. He rose to partial prominence when he became the Secretary-General of PASTEF in 2021 when Sonko, the party’s leader and founder, was temporarily arrested. He rose to national prominence more recently when, despite him being in jail, Sonko named him as his successor due to Sonko being barred from running in the election.

Like Sonko, Bassirou had previously worked as a tax inspector in Senegal’s Tax and Estate’s department. The two met there, and became rather close (so much so that Bassirou has named one of his sons ‘Ousmane’ in honour of him) before Bassirou eventually became involved in PASTEF.

Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye (left) and Ousmane Sonko (right), hold a joint press conference on March 15th, 2024, the day after they were released from prison (Photo from AFP).

In Sonko’s absence, Bassirou oversaw PASTEF, which witnessed several successes in elections after the 2019 election, an election in which Sonko ran for President and placed third. PASTEF garnered a significant portion of votes in subsequent parliamentary and local elections. Bassirou’s involvement in PASTEF ended, however, in April of 2023 when he was arrested on several charges, including incitement to insurrection. Sonko himself was re-arrested several months later in July.

PASTEF itself was dissolved by the government following Sonko’s arrested. While Sonko was barred from running in the election due to the upholding of his conviction in a defamation case in January, Bassirou had never technically been convicted of any of the charges wrought against him, and thus was still eligible for candidacy.

PASTEF endorsed Bassirou as its chosen candidate in November of 2023, and Sonko named Bassirou as his successor in January, however due to PASTEF’s dissolution Bassirou technically ran as an independent.

The support of Sonko, who holds extensive popularity with the nations youth, was key to Bassirou’s victory. Until late on the night of March 14th the two were in jail, before they were released under President Sall’s Amnesty Law, a law passed recently which granted freedom to a significant number of people who were arrested on politics based charges since 2021.

While the two were in jail, Sonko’s supporters spread the message that “Sonko is Diomaye, Diomaye is Sonko,” connecting support of Sonko to support of Bassirou.

A photo of pro-Sonko, pro-Bassirou protestors (Photo from Zohra Bensemra/Reuters).

The importance of Sonko’s support has drawn criticism that Bassirou is merely “President in place” of Sonko, however the two have portrayed a relationship of co-operation rather than one that suggests Bassirou is leading solely in place of Sonko.

Sonko’s future involvement in politics under Bassirou’s administration remains currently unknown.

March 24th: How it Went and the Buildup

Senegal’s election took place on March 24th, and despite political protests in February that saw three people killed, went rather peacefully.

Millions of people cast their votes in the nation which has for a long time been regarded as a bastion of democracy in West Africa. The election had observers from ECOWAS, a west African economic bloc headed by Nigeria, as well as the EU.

However March 24th was not the original date for the election. Originally, it was supposed to be held on February 25th, but was delayed.

On February 5th, the government attempted to delay the election, which was originally set for February 25th, for 10 months until December 15th. The government stated it was delaying the election 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.

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.

Following the vote to delay the election, which took place after a number of opposition MP’s were escorted out of parliament by police, protests broke out nationwide. There were hefty police crackdowns, with several hundred people being arrested, and three people dying during clashes with police.

Senegalese protestors pictured in Dakar, February 9th, 2024 (Photo from Reuters/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo).

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 PM 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. This election date was again 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.

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

Following this, election dates were set for March 24th. They were set a week into March, leaving less than a month for candidates to carry out campaign processes before the election.

President Sall has denied wrongdoing in his attempts to delay the election. The government had 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,” however opponents accused President Sall and the ruling party of attempting to cling onto power and delay an election they feared losing, a fear which has now been proven right with Bassirou’s victory.

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

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, however many have celebrated the law as it brought the freedom of both Bassirou and Sonko.

A photo of pro-Sonko protestors gathering in celebration of his release (Photo from Seyllou/AFP).

Who is Ousmane Sonko..?

Sonko has been one of the key opposition voices against President Sall for a number of years. He founded the Senegalese political party the ‘African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity’ (PASTEF), and prior to his entry into politics worked as a tax inspector, during which he exposed a Canadian company using mineral sands processing plants in Senegal as offshore tax havens. He was terminated as a tax inspector after this.

In 2014, he founded PASTEF, and eventually served as a member of the National Assembly from 2017-2022. In 2019 he ran for President, and came in 3rd place against President Macky Sall with 16% of the vote. During 2022 local elections, his political coalition, then headed by Bassirou, saw some successes against Sall’s coalition. During parliamentary elections in the same year they managed to garner a third of the total seats in the National Assembly.

Sonko’s critics have accused him of holding connections with the Muslim Brotherhood. Politically, Sonko has pushed for tax reform, tougher laws on homosexuality (which is already criminalized in Senegal), as well as expanded use of the death penalty. He also espouses many of the same policies as Bassirou.

In March 2021, Sonko was arrested over alleged rape charges from a worker at a massage parlor, charges he said were falsified and politically motivated. His initial arrest sparked protests which saw a hefty crackdown by the government, and resulted in the deaths of at least 13 people, and the arrest of many more. A few days after protests began, Sonko was released but under the condition he could not leave the country.

Ousmane Sonko pictured in 2022 (Photo from Seyllou, AFP/File).

Two years later, on June 1st 2023, Sonko was cleared of the rape charges, however instead was charged with “corrupting the youth”, and sentenced to two years in prison. He was not arrested until July 28th. His party, PASTEF, was dissolved by the government only 3 days later on July 31st. His arrest and the dissolution of his party triggered renewed nation-wide protests, during which the government banned tik-tok. Sonko was hospitalized on August 6th after beginning a hunger strike in protest of his re-arrest.

Sonko was denied from running in the 2024 election 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.

The Future

The opposition’s victory in Senegal represents a significant shift in the political landscape both of the nation itself, but also of the region. Analysts have hastened to point out that it additionally shows that Senegal’s democratic institutions and values are intact, after they had been called into question with the government’s attempts to delay the election.

The February delay of the election was the first ever time that an election was delayed in Senegal’s history, and prompted an unprecedented political crisis. International and internal fears grew of potential instability caused by the crisis, with fears made far worse by the number of coups that have been launched in west Africa in the past several years, including in nations which border Senegal.

Senegal is one of the few African nations to have never witnessed a coup, which prompted several international bodies to treat the situation in Senegal with care, such as ECOWAS who sent moderators to attempt to mediate the crisis.

ECOWAS’ Communique regarding the situation in Senegal on February 3rd, 2024. Notably, this was released prior to the official extension of the election.

The opposition’s victory provides an opportunity for Senegal’s political sphere to begin anew, after it has been marred by several years of protests led by said opposition, which led to a number of fatalities in clashes with police.

If Bassirou is able to keep to his promises, the opposition victory also will represent significant economic opportunity for Senegal’s populace. However things are not off to a great start, with Senegal’s dollar bonds falling to a five month low as apparently investors have shown concern that Bassirou’s victory could mark a transition away from the nations’ typical ‘business friendly’ attitude.

Their victory also marks another potential loss for France in the region. While it is unclear what plans Bassirou has exactly when it comes to Senegal’s relationship with France, it is unlikely to be one beneficial to France, a nation which many have began to view as neo-colonialist, particularly with the economic grip it has on the Senegalese economy.

France has suffered a number of losses in the region in the past several years, primarily at the hands of coups, as several French African nations have abandoned their relationship with their former colonial power. A number of these countries have cancelled military agreements with France, and instead turned to Russia. Wagner mercenaries have been deployed to several of these countries, most notably Mali, where they have been accused of attacks against civilians.

Three Wagner Mercenaries walk alongside a Malian soldier, not long after their arrival in the country (Photo from the French Army via AP).

Senegal will be a nation to watch in the future, after Bassirou becomes the nations fifth President. In order to secure victory, he needs to hold 50% or more of the vote. While official results are not expected until Friday, it appears already that Bassirou will secure a majority.

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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