Senegal’s president backtracks on elections delay after top court rejects attempt

Tension has been rising in Senegal following the parliament’s controversial vote to postpone elections to December 15.

Tension has been rising in Senegal following the parliament’s controversial vote to postpone elections to December 15. John Wessels/AFP via Getty ImagesCNN — 

Senegal’s outgoing president Macky Sall Friday said he would hold presidential elections “as soon as possible” one day after the West African country’s constitutional council ruled against his decision to postpone elections.

“The President of the Republic has taken note of this decision which lies within the framework of the normal jurisdiction mechanism of a democracy and the rule of law sanctioned by the Senegalese constitution,” Sall’s office said in a statement.

“The head of state will conduct necessary consultations to hold the presidential election as soon as possible,” the statement added.

Sall was under pressure to react once the top court Thursday rejected his bid to delay elections until the end of the year. Civil society groups were also planning fresh demonstrations this weekend to double down on their demand for immediate elections.
Senegalese citizens have taken to the streets in anger since Sall postponed the polls leading to clashes between police and protesters in which at least 3 people have died, according to local media reports.

Senegalese riot police lobs tear gas at supporters of opposition presidential candidate Daouda Ndiaye in Dakar, Senegal, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.

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In its ruling, the constitutional court said “neither the president nor the parliament can postpone a presidential election; only the Constitutional Council, acting as judge of the legality of all national elections, has the power to do so.”

The decision was widely welcomed amid fears Sall was trying to illegally extend his hold on power.

“I am not at all surprised [by the decision] and for me it’s a satisfaction,” scholar and leader of the coalition “Protect our election” Babacar Gueye told French radio station RFI Friday.

Rising tensions

Tensions have been rising in Senegal following the parliament’s controversial vote at the beginning of February to postpone the election to December 15. Several opposition lawmakers were unable to take part in the vote after being forcibly removed from the legislative chamber during the debate.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) urged all parties in Senegal to comply with the constitutional council’s decision.

“The Commission calls on the political class and all stakeholders to show restraint and give priority to inclusive dialogue to preserve the democratic gains of this model ECOWAS Member state,” the regional bloc said in a statement Friday.

Thursday’s ruling coincided with the release of several political detainees.

A government mediator, Pierre Goudiaby Atépa, told RFI that Sall was considering releasing “nearly a thousand” political detainees, including prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who enjoys widespread support among Senegalese youth, “in the coming days.”

Sonko was barred from the polls after the Senegalese Supreme Court upheld his conviction over a defamation case. Protests flared after his sentencing on a separate charge last year, leaving at least 16 people dead.

One of the freed detainees, Cheikh Oumar Diagne of the opposition Rally for Truth party kicked against the proposed dialogue while demanding that elections be held instead.

“We have a country to build and criminals to neutralize. Tell Macky that the last thing he needs to do in this ending term is an election not a dialogue!”, Diagne said in a Facebook post after his release.

“No to presidential election postponement”, said another released opposition leader Aboubacar Djamil Sané of the PASTEF Party, who had been imprisoned for seven months.

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