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Intel Brief: Senegal’s Constitutional Crisis


 



 

Date: 23/02/2024


Location: Senegal, West-Africa


Who’s involved:

  • President Macky Sall of the Alliance for the Republic (APR) party, Karim Wade of the opposition Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), Ousmane Sonko of the coalition Liberate the People, Senegal's Parliament, the Constitutional Council, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).


What happened?


  • In a national televised address on 03/02/2024, the incumbent President of Senegal Macky Sall announced a decision to delay the upcoming presidential election. This came after a decision made by Senegal’s Constitutional Council to exclude a handful of prominent candidates from the electoral list. Concerns have emerged that the selection was discriminatory, which, according to Sall, would threaten the credibility of the election, prompting him to postpone the elections. 

  • On 05/02/2024, Senegal's parliament voted to postpone the presidential elections to December 15 rather than August. During the parliamentary vote, opposition members tried to block the voting process, resulting in security forces storming the legislative building to forcefully remove them, and the riot police deploying tear gas to disperse and arrest protesters gathered outside of the building. The Ministry of Communications also shut down mobile internet services amid growing protests.

  • On 07/02/2024, presidential opposition candidates and lawmakers submitted several legal objections against the president’s decision to delay the election. Critics claimed that delaying the vote would extend President Sall's term and described the move as an ‘institutional coup’. 

  • On Thursday 15/02/2024, the Constitutional Council judged that the delay was unconstitutional, forcing Sall to set a new election date soon. The African Union, along with regional bodies and Western governments welcomed the Council’s decision on Friday 16/02/2024, arguing for free and fair elections as soon as possible. Sall made a statement the same day, pledging to implement the court order, though without directly indicating a new election date.

  • As of 17/02/2024, tensions seem to have diminished. Yet, security forces remain present as there are rumors of upcoming demonstrations. 

  • In the evening of 22/02/2024, Sall declared live on television that he will end his presidential mandate on 2 April. Yet, he still did not provide a new election date. While there are further negotiations to establish a new poll, a citizen collective named Aar Sunu Election announced plans to organize a demonstration in Dakar on Saturday 24 February, one day prior to the original presidential election date.


Context and analysis:


  • The latest constitutional crisis comes after a year of intensifying political unrest in Senegal. In June 2023, violent clashes broke out following the conviction of Ousmane Sonko for corrupting and rallying youth, resulting in about 15 deaths and hundreds of people injured and arrested. Sonko leads the coalition Liberate the People, an opposition party to President Sall’s APR. Thereafter, unrest has continued, with regular protests against the high cost of living, youth unemployment, and accusations of systemic government corruption.

  • Tensions continued in December 2023, when the Council banned opposition leaders from running for office. On 26/12/2023, jailed opposition leader Sonko filed to run for presidency, but he has been excluded by the Council due to several charges against him, which he dismissed as being politically motivated. Opposition leader Karim Wade was ruled inadmissible due to his possession of both French and Senegalese nationalities, as according to the Council, presidential candidates are required to solely hold Senegalese citizenship. Ultimately, the final list included 20 presidential candidates, being the first election with so many candidates. Although it could be considered a sign of good democratic practice, the event became overshadowed by doubts on the Council’s candidate selection and the election postponement. 

  • The Parliament’s decision to extend  the poll to December 2024 has raised questions about Sall's intentions, given that it is a significant delay to solve a technical issue concerning candidate selection. As President Sall is not seeking a third term, the issue has repeatedly ignited deadly protests. Yet, doubts have emerged whether there were additional motives behind Sall’s decision to delay. One potential reason is to buy time for his party to maneuver a stronger candidate into position than his successor chosen Amadou Ba, considering the party was likely going to lose the election. 

  • The delay of the elections has been shocking given that Senegal has had a multi-party democracy with regular changes of government since the 1980s. ECOWAS expressed its concerns on the emergence of political turmoil. They urged Senegal to hold fair elections as soon as possible. It is questionable, however, to what extent the organization's voice will have an impact on maintaining democratic governments, given the successful military takeovers in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. President Sall’s announcement of the delay came a week after three member states, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, declared they are leaving the bloc. Reuters reported that the countries withdrew from ECOWAS as the bloc failed to assist in combating Islamist insurgents and resolving insecurity issues. Earlier, ECOWAS suspended these countries due to military takeovers in the countries. Another worrying development is the growth of anti-French sentiment, while affinity with Russia seems to increase. 

  


Conclusion:


Multiple actors are expressing their concerns on the constitutional crisis in Senegal. Increasing shortfall in democratic practices risks not only damaging Senegal's status as a pillar of democratic stability in the region but also encourages the spread of anti-democratic tendencies throughout West Africa. Amid shifting global dynamics, the expanding influence of Russia, and growing skepticism about ECOWAS's role and effectiveness, it remains to be seen how the forthcoming elections will play out and to what extent democratic norms will be maintained.



 

23_02_2024 Intel brief Senegal
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