Sall Dealt A Crushing Political Blow In Senegal

*By Paul Ejime

After taking his country and the region on a needless rollercoaster ride, President Macky Sall of Senegal has finally capitulated. The country’s 24th February 2024 presidential election, which he had attempted to postpone by all means, will now take place on 24 March, thanks to the uncompromising position of the population supported by civil society activism.

Sall had failed to postpone the presidential election through a presidential decree and a controversial law hastily passed by the National Assembly after opposition MPs were removed from the Chambers by paramilitary police.

The Constitutional Council, which has the final say on electoral matters had to step in to nullify as unconstitutional the decree and the law, which the opposition described as “a constitutional coup,” a malignant syndrome causing political instability in the region.

Unfazed by the political tensions and sporadic street protests that killed at least 20 people between June 2023 and last month and with dozens clamped in detention, Sall continued on his doomed project by calling a National Dialogue to fix a new date for the presidential vote after the Constitutional Council’s damning verdict.

He also took his fight to the last ECOWAS summit, accusing the Commission of acting like a civil society organization for daring to admonish his government to respect the electoral calendar and provisions of the country’s constitution.

Sall’s dubious political game has now run its course. The Constitutional Council on Wednesday dismissed the outcome of the National Dialogue, which had fixed 2nd June as the new date for the presidential election.

The Council insists that the vote must take place before 2nd of April, the end of Sall’s mandate.

Consequently, Senegal’s Council of Ministers has fixed 24 March as the new date for the presidential election.

“The President of the Republic informed the Council of Ministers that the date of the presidential election had been set for Sunday 24 March,” the Council said in a statement.

Also, late Wednesday, Sall announced the dissolution of the government and the replacement of Prime Minister Amadou Ba with Interior Minister Sidiki Kaba.

According to the presidency, the move is to allow Ba, the ruling coalition’s presidential candidate, to focus on his electoral campaign.

Official sources at Senegal’s Electoral Commission, CENA said in Dakar on Thursday that the Commission “is ready for the presidential election.

Senegal’s constitution allows three weeks for campaigns before the presidential vote, but constitutional experts agree that stakeholders should adapt to “the present exceptional situation” to save the country from further political tensions.

The constitution also provides for a run-off vote after three weeks in case none of the presidential candidates fails to secure the required 50% +1 vote.

The Constitutional Council has further recommended that in line with the provisions of the constitution, the President/Speaker of the National Assembly will take over from the outgoing President of the Republic Sall and oversee such run-off polls.

Many Senegalese were surprised that Sall, who was a major beneficiary of the opposition against his predecessor President Abdoulaye Wade’s third-term agenda, would contemplate a similar route to prolong his stay in power.

Under local and international pressure, Sall had reluctantly told his compatriots in July 2023 that he would not be a candidate for the 2024 election.

By the 2nd of April, he would have spent 12 years and the mandatory two terms of presidency prescribed by the Constitution, having previously served as Prime Minister and President of the National Assembly.

His ill-fated moves had cast Senegal in a bad light, denting its democratic credentials as the anchor of stability in the politically restive ECOWAS region.

Senegal often prides itself as the country of the “Teranga” (a peaceful place), and the only nation that has not witnessed a military coup in the so-called coup zone.

Four of ECOWAS’ 15 member States (Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Niger) are now under military dictatorships with three of them (Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger), threatening to withdraw from the regional organization.

A peaceful resolution of the political crisis in Senegal would be a welcome respite for the embattled regional organization and an opportunity for it to recalibrate its conflict management and resolution strategies.

Sall’s failed political adventure should also serve as a lesson to ECOWAS leaders, largely blamed for poor leadership, bad governance, and the attendant socio-economic and political instability in the region.

*This opinion/analysis article in contributed by Paul Ejime, an Author, a Global Affairs Analyst and Consultant on Peace & Security and Governance Communications

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