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Senegal Presidential Race To Start With One Candidate Behind Bars

According to his advisors, the battle to become Senegal’s next president will begin on Sunday, with anti-establishment challenger Bassirou Diomaye Faye behind bars.

AFP was unable to obtain confirmation from either the courts or Faye’s lawyers that his release request had been denied.

Faye has been in prison since 2023, but authorities accepted his nomination, making him the first imprisoned candidate to run in a Senegalese election.

He is one of hundreds jailed since 2021 in connection with a tense standoff between the state and his now-defunct party, PASTEF.

The opposition candidate was charged with contempt of court, defamation, and acts likely to disrupt public order. His detention occurred after he released a message criticizing the justice system.

Faye was proposed as a substitute candidate to replace imprisoned opposition firebrand Ousmane Sonko.

However, it is unknown how Faye will conduct his campaign leading up to the first round of voting on February 25.

Senegal’s presidential contest is the most open since its independence from France in 1960.

Senegal has never seen a military coup, a rarity in unstable West Africa, but it has seen many outbreaks of fatal unrest since 2021.

Legitimacy is questioned 

Adding to the widespread sense of concern, Senegal’s parliament approved a commission of inquiry into the workings of the Constitutional Council — the body that both finalizes the list of candidates and announces the election winner.

In January, the council authorized 20 candidates but disqualified hundreds more, raising concerns that the election could be postponed.

Disqualified candidate Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, who lives in exile in Qatar, led the effort to institute an inquiry.

His candidacy was rejected due to his mixed nationality (his mother is French), which he claims he no longer possesses and so does not preclude him from running.

He has accused two of the Constitutional Council’s seven members of having affiliations to presidential candidates, including Prime Minister Amadou Ba, who is supported by outgoing President Macky Sall.

The investigation has sparked concerns that the Constitutional Council’s legitimacy would be put into doubt at a critical time.

Most MPs from the president’s own party unexpectedly voted in favour of the inquiry, fueling speculation that they are attempting to postpone a vote they fear losing.

Since the Constitutional Council issued its final list of presidential contenders, there have been calls for Faye’s release from prison.

Faye asked for provisional parole on January 22, but a judge denied the request on Tuesday, according to a coalition that supports him.

“The regime persists in its desire to deprive all opponents of their rights,” the statement read.

The government has constantly denied tampering with judicial proceedings.

Senegal’s courts had already denied many demands for Faye’s release.

The consequences of his protracted arrest could occur before Sunday.

Each presidential contender must record their first campaign message on-site at Senegal’s national broadcaster on Friday or Saturday, according to national television campaign communications laws.

Written by PH

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