Fri. Mar 1st, 2024

Analysis | Postponed elections in Senegal: a democratic democracy jerked off

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Gendarmes in the streets of Dakar during demonstrations against the postponement of the presidential elections on February 4, 2024 .

  • Sophie Langlois (View profile)Sophie Langlois< /li>

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The postponement of the presidential elections in Senegal, which were to be held on February 25, further cracks the foundation of Senegalese democracy. It is experienced as a political earthquake in one of the rare countries in Africa to have never experienced a coup d'état. This is the first time since the country's independence in 1960 that the presidential elections have been postponed. For opponents of President Macky Sall, it is a constitutional coup.

The images of gendarmes invading the National Assembly of Senegal on Monday evening, to forcefully remove opposition deputies, are shocking. The forced evacuation of elected opposition officials allowed the presidential camp to pass, almost unanimously, a bill which postpones the vote until December 15, 2024 and extends the mandate of Macky Sall until the entry in office under a new president, in 2025.

Is a bill legal if passed in such circumstances? This coup raises serious doubts about the democratic quality of the approach announced on Saturday by Macky Sall.

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The President of Senegal Macky Sall in Paris on June 23 (Archive photo)

It’s an attempt for him to stay in power, says Aziz Fall, political scientist and lecturer at UQAM, joined in Dakar, where he is on a sabbatical. It is an attempt for the liberal front to stay in power. It is this liberal coalition which has devastated the country, which has sold a good part of national resources to foreign capital. Mr. Fall participates in the political debate in Senegal with a platform that proposes the foundations of a new republic.

This is not the first time that Senegalese democracy is being undermined by a president who is trying to cling to power. Abdoulaye Wade did it in 2011 and Macky Sall did exactly what he had criticized his predecessor.

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He manipulated the Constitution and its interpretation in an attempt to prolong his reign. He finally gave up a highly contested third term last July after violently repressed protests left more than 20 dead in Dakar.

Obviously, the outgoing president is working hard to ensure that his party, his political clan, remains in power. His main opponent, Ousmane Sonko, the candidate of rebellious youth, is in prison, and his party has been dissolved. But this was not enough to neutralize the opposition forces which dominated the electoral campaign until Saturday.

The Constitutional Council caused a surprise by accepting the candidacy of Sonko's right-hand man, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who is also imprisoned. However, even behind bars, Faye's candidacy is more popular than that of President Sall's heir apparent. The current Prime Minister, Amadou Ba, was apparently heading towards an almost assured defeat.

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Ousmane Sonko's party has been dissolved. (File photo)

It’s an end-of-regime atmosphere, says Aziz Fall. It is the neocolonial regime that is coming to an end throughout West Africa. It is the French neocolonial state, resulting from independence, which is disintegrating in the Sahel. It collapsed in Mali, Burkina and Niger. The strongholds of the CFA franc still remain Ivory Coast and Senegal, places where external investments are significant. They are the ones who brought about French globalization. But here, the end of the regime is being announced for the entire sub-region.

On Saturday, the president justified the postponement of the election by citing irregularities in the choice, by the Constitutional Council, of candidates for the presidential election. Twenty applications were accepted, including the controversial one of Bassirou Faye, a leader of Pastef, Ousmane Sonko's dissolved party.

The other decision that seems problematic for the presidential camp is the rejection of Karim Wade's candidacy. The son of former President Abdoulaye Wade and candidate of the PDS, the Senegalese Democratic Party, was excluded because of his dual Franco-Senegalese nationality. This exclusion would have destabilized the president's entourage, who is apparently looking for a new ball carrier. Karim Wade would have abandoned his French citizenship too late, a renunciation signed on January 16 by the brand new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.

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Former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and his son Karim Wade in 2008 (Archive photo)

The postponement of the election allows the presidential camp to gain time, possibly to promote another candidacy, but which one? Monday evening, deputies from the PDS, Karim Wade's party, voted with deputies from the presidential party to delay the elections until December 15, 2024.

You should know that the old enemies, Macky Sall and Karim Wade, have become closer in recent months. Wade, nicknamed the Minister of Heaven and Earth during his father's second term, from 2007 to 2012, was sentenced in 2015 to six years in prison and a fine of $308 million for illegal enrichment. Released less than a year later, he went into exile in Qatar for seven years.

Those close to Macky Sall tell the monthly Young Africathat the president was counting on Wade's candidacy to bring his candidate, Amadou Ba, into the second round. But it would be surprising if the leaders of the Alliance for the Republic, the party in power since 2012, accepted that Karim Wade would lead a possible coalition. The impression of his proximity to Emmanuel Macron's France is a big burden to drag around. Young Senegalese — 50% of the population is under 20 — decry in every tone the abuses of a ruling class still close to France which continues to favor the elites to the detriment of the majority.

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Before being appointed Prime Minister of Senegal, Amadou Ba was Minister of Finance from 2013 to 2019, then Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2019 and 2020, and Minister of the Head of State. (File photo)

This explains, says Aziz Fall, who is of Senegalese origin, the resentment of a large part of the population, especially the youth, whose life horizons are increasingly obscure. , young people who risk their lives in the desert and the oceans to migrate. There are archipelagos of prosperity which are not for them.

These young people – who have nothing to lose – have been saying for two years that they are ready to die to overthrow this political class, which they consider corrupt and which has ruled the country for more than 20 years. Opposition supporters are likely to also want to take advantage of this delay to take to the streets to force the government to release from prison the man who promised them this change, Ousmane Sonko.

Since Sunday, 150 of these opponents have been arrested by the police in Dakar, including Macky Sall's former prime minister, Aminata Touré.

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