Senegal’s political test
A delayed election raises democracy concerns
In Senegal’s capital of Dakar, chanting protesters on Monday burned tires as they called President Macky Sall a dictator after he delayed a scheduled presidential vote.
Sall had announced on Saturday, hours before official campaigning began, his decision to postpone general elections originally slated for Feb. 25, citing a need to resolve disputes over candidates. Later on Monday, lawmakers voted to delay the elections to Dec. 15, ultimately extending Sall’s stay in office.
The move has spiraled into clashes between security officers and opposition supporters, fueling fears of more instability in what has been a more stable democracy on the continent. It comes at the heels of recent coups in other West African countries, sparking alarm from regional unions.
Security forces on Monday dragged out several opposition lawmakers from the legislative building as they tried to stall the vote to postpone the election to December. Two opposition parties have filed a court petition challenging the election delay.
Authorities also arrested street protesters and restricted mobile internet access Monday. Senegal’s communications ministry said the move sought to curb the spread of “hateful and subversive messages relayed on social networks.”
After deadly protests last year, Sall formally declared he had no plans to seek an unconstitutional third term and backed Prime Minister Amadou Ba as his likely successor. He blamed the delayed vote on a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council over the rejection of some candidates. Opposition leaders have rejected the move as a constitutional coup.
“It’s a question of whether we’re willing to let the regime that’s in place move forward its political agenda or to say no,” Malick Diouf, a protester in Dakar, told Agence France-Presse. “And the answer for me is simple. It’s to say no.”
Christian leaders in Senegal have also expressed concern. Benjamin Ndiaye, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dakar, called for dialogue to restore social peace as he criticized the delay.
“The Senegalese people must avoid the technique of evasion,” he said. “If there is a rule, it must be followed. If we respect it, we can move forward.”
Senegal has never delayed a presidential election. The West African country has also never experienced a coup since it gained independence from France in 1960—an oddity in a region battling military takeovers.
Late in January, military leaders in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger announced their withdrawal from the regional economic bloc known as the Economic Community of West African States.
ECOWAS on Tuesday urged Senegal’s political leaders to respect the electoral calendar. The African Union, France, and the United States have also raised concerns.
Tsion Hagos, program director at the Ethiopia-based policy research group Amani Africa, said Sall’s move raises questions about constitutional legitimacy. Hagos said a similar script has played out in other countries on the continent. She called on regional actors to take a more proactive, people-centric response.
“Regional actors can’t wait until a coup unfolds to start having national dialogue,” she said. “Now is the time to have it.”