Police, Protesters Clash After Postponement Of Senegal’s Election

Senegalese gendarmes patrol a road during demonstrations called by the opposition parties in Dakar on February 4, 2024, to protest against postponement of the presidential election. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AF)

Protesters and police battled in Dakar, Senegalese capital, and at least one key opposition figure was arrested on Sunday, a day after President Macky Sall declared an indefinite postponement of the presidential election.

The presidential election was scheduled for February 25, and Sall has yet to announce a new date, prompting a wave of criticism from opposition leaders and international concern.

Sall stated on Saturday that he was interfering in a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court over candidate rejection.

Lawmakers are looking into two Constitutional Council justices whose involvement in the election process has been questioned. Sall promised to ensure “a free, transparent, and inclusive election,” but did not provide a new date for the vote.

On Sunday, hundreds of men and women marched in response to a request from opposition leaders.

They gathered in the early afternoon at a roundabout on one of the capital’s main routes, waving Senegalese flags and wearing national football team jerseys.

Police, some on foot and others in pick-up trucks, fired tear gas and pursued fleeing protestors through adjacent streets, while some marchers threw rocks.

Youths yelling “Macky Sall, dictator!” erected temporary roadblocks and burnt tires in the streets.

‘Constitutional Coup’

Former Prime Minister Aminata Toure, now a prominent opposition figure, was arrested while coming to a demonstration.

She announced on X, formerly Twitter, that she had been detained, and opposition deputy Guy Marius Sagna verified this to AFP. Toure was prime minister under Sall before joining the opposition and becoming one of his most vocal detractors.

In a post on X Saturday, she called his move to postpone the election a “unprecedented democratic regression”.

Another presidential candidate, Daouda Ndiaye, took to social media to claim he had been beaten by security personnel.

AFP was unable to corroborate allegations that another opposition leader and presidential contender, Anta Babacar Ngom, had been seized.

Images circulating on social media appear to show her fighting with members of the security forces.

Later Sunday, the communications ministry shut down private broadcaster Walf TV, citing “incitement to violence” in its coverage of the protests. Walf stated on social media that its licence has been revoked.

Opposition leaders and presidential aspirants have condemned Sall’s decision.

One of the 20 candidates, Habib Sy, stated that despite the official postponement, opposition groups had agreed to commence their election campaigns jointly.

Another opposition member, former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall, urged pro-democratic forces to band together. “All of Senegal must stand up,” he urged reporters.

Sall, who is unrelated to the president, condemned “a constitutional coup” by a man who “dreams of eternity”.

According to Senegal’s election code, at least 80 days must pass between the publishing of the date-setting order and the election, thus the earliest a vote might now take place is in late April.

International Concern 

The United States, the European Union, and former colonial master France all called for the referendum to be postponed as soon as possible.

The EU urged for a timely, transparent, inclusive, and credible election, with spokesman Nabila Massrali stating that the delay “opens a period of uncertainty.”

France’s foreign ministry encouraged authorities to end uncertainty and hold the poll as soon as possible.

One of the first to respond was the US State Department, which urged Senegal to schedule a “timely, free, and fair election”.

The West African group, ECOWAS, issued a statement of concern and called for discussion.

Senegal has long been regarded as a rare example of democratic stability in West Africa, which has seen a number of coups in recent years in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

There were 20 contenders in the running, but two key opposition leaders had already been eliminated.

On Saturday, President Sall repeated his decision not to run.

Excluded Candidates

Sall had picked Prime Minister Amadou Ba from his party as his successor.

However, with the party divided over his candidacy, Ba faced a likely defeat at the vote box.

The authorities allowed the nomination of anti-establishment candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye, despite the fact that he is now in prison.

However, the Constitutional Council has barred dozens of candidates from voting, including opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who has been imprisoned since July 2023, and Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

Wade allies in the National Assembly demanded a legislative investigation into the partiality of two Constitutional Court judges.

The Assembly passed that proposal on January 31, with several members of Sall’s party backing it.

Written by PH

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