Menu Close

Senegal to hold election after Constitutional Council voids delay

Add to my bookmarks

Share This Article:

Picture: UNOWAS via Peoples Dispatch – President Macky Sall’s announcement to hold an election on March 23 follows weeks of uncertainty over his bid to extend his time in power

By Tanupriya Singh

Senegal is set to hold its presidential election on March 24 after the country’s top judicial body, the Constitutional Council, rejected the government’s bid to delay the polls. Outgoing president Macky Sall formally announced on the evening of March 6 that the Council of Ministers had been informed of the date. The decision was also ratified by the Constitutional Council on March 7.

Earlier on Wednesday, the seven-judge bench of the Constitutional Council ruled that a proposal to postpone the elections to June 2 was unconstitutional. The date was the result of a “national dialogue” convened by Sall last week in the aftermath of protests against a “constitutional coup” by the head of state.

Constitutional coup

On February 3, Sall indefinitely suspended the February 25 election citing an alleged dispute between the Constitutional Council and the National Assembly and accusations of corruption within the election authority. On February 5, the parliament voted to delay the polls to December 15, and to extend Sall’s term in office until his successor was chosen.

In accordance with Senegalese law, Sall’s term will expire on April 2. Sall has dissolved his Cabinet, and replaced prime minister Amadou Ba who will be contesting the polls from Sall’s coalition.

The move sparked another round of protests in the country as people took to the streets to demand that the original election timetable be upheld. Senegalese state forces responded with deadly violence, with four people killed, the youngest being 16 years old.

A recent joint investigation by Al Jazeera and the porCausa foundation found that the government had deployed an elite counter-terrorism unit, aided and trained by the European Union, to suppress the protests.

The Rapid Action Surveillance and Intervention Group (GAR-SI) was meant to be stationed at Senegal’s border with Mali to aid in cross-border crimes and attacks by armed groups that have destabilised the Sahel region in West Africa.

On February 15, the Constitutional Council overturned the election delay, declaring that elections must be held “as soon as possible”. It had further stressed the “intangibility” of the five-year presidential term, affirming that Sall must step down in April. In a press release on Thursday, the president of the institution, Mamadou Badio Camara, explained the Council’s decision to support the March 24 election date in order to “meet the constitutional requirement of resuming the disrupted election process and holding the vote before the end of the presidential term”.

Sall proceeded to announce a national dialogue, stating that he would rely on its recommendations for a new date for the elections. This was unfolding while prominent civil society organisations were unequivocal in their demands that the president step down on April 2.

Based on the report of the dialogue, the new date was set for June 2 — a decision voided by the Constitutional Council on Wednesday. While the Council had declared that the polls would be held on March 31, the government has notified March 24 as the date.

The Council also declared that the final list of 19 presidential candidates that had been approved in January would not be revised. This is important, especially given that it was the exclusion of Karim Wade, the candidate from the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) that had prompted the party to mount allegations of corruption against the Constitutional Council — allegations later cited by Sall to suspend the election decree last month.

MPs from PDS would later join their colleagues from Sall’s ruling coalition to vote to postpone the elections on February 5.

Meanwhile, in what was considered an appeasement gesture by Sall, the government approved the release of hundreds of people, including opposition figures, who had been imprisoned since June 2021 — when Senegal witnessed its first major round of protests against the Sall administration following the arrest of leading opposition figure, Ousmane Sonko.

While the government has previously denied that Senegal had any political prisoners, the Collective of Families of Political Detainees had stated that 1,500 people were reportedly being held in the jail. The protests in 2021 and in June 2023, saw brutal repression by state forces, including the use of tear gas and live ammunition, with an estimated 60 people killed in this period.

The government also reopened the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, months after the leading institution had been shut down during the June 2023 protests.

Amnesty for who?

On February 26, Sall announced a General Amnesty law for “events relating to political demonstrations that took place between 2021 and 2024” in a “spirit of national reconciliation”. The draft was subsequently submitted to, and approved by, the Council of Ministers and finally presented to the National Assembly on March 4.

The amnesty law would cover “all acts likely to be classified as criminal or correctional offences committed between February 1, 2021 and February 25, 2024 both in Senegal and abroad, relating to demonstrations or having political motivations”.

The language of amnesty has been rejected among the activists, opposition lawmakers, and the families of detainees who have instead been demanding the unconditional release of political prisoners. This includes Ousmane Sonko, who has been imprisoned on a slate of charges including “formenting an insurrection” since July 2023, and his deputy, Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

Faye, the general-secretary of Sonko’s African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (PASTEF) party, was detained in April for an online post criticising the proceedings in a defamation case against Sonko. The government also declared the PASTEF party dissolved alongside Sonko’s imprisonment in July.

However, while Sonko’s candidature was ultimately rejected, Faye replaced him on the ballot for the presidential elections and his candidature was approved by the Constitutional Council. However, both remain in prison at present.

Importantly, the amnesty law was also rejected because it would absolve those responsible for the killings of people during the protests since 2021, amounting to a denial of justice and accountability.

On March 6, a day after the parliamentary law commission approved the amnesty law, the plenary of the National Assembly held a debate and a vote on the amnesty law. Addressing the chamber, Guy Marius Sagna, an opposition MP and leader of the Popular Anti-imperialist and Pan-African Revolution movement (FRAPP) said: “You’re giving a license to murder, and with this law, you’re persisting in this logic.”

“This amnesty law, amnesia law, impunity law, this amnesty will not be done in my name, and I remind you what the people are saying: the people are saying ‘election before April 2’, the people are saying that Macky Sall will leave power on that date, whether he likes it or not, and the people are saying free Sonko, the people are saying free the political detainees.

“What the people are saying is justice for the murdered and tortured, what the people are saying is victory for the patriots in the first round.”

The National Assembly subsequently voted to adopt the legislation with 95 votes in favor, 49 against and two abstentions, with deputies from PASTEF voting against the measure.

Tanupriya Singh is a writer at Peoples Dispatch and is based in Delhi

This article was first published on Peoples Dispatch