Security forces used tear gas to disperse an opposition rally outside Senegal’s parliament on Monday as lawmakers began debating a proposal to postpone the country’s prsidential election, which was previously set for February 25.
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President Macky Sall on Saturday announced a delay to the vote hours before campaigning was set to officially begin, sparking a political crisis.
Armoured police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse around 100 people who had gathered outside parliament in the capital, Dakar.
Parliament is examining a text, adopted the previous day by a preparatory committee, proposing a delay of six months or even up to a year, until February 2025, according to the text distributed at the meeting.
It says that the aim of the postponement would be to “avoid institutional instability and serious political unrest”, and to ensure “a complete resumption of the electoral process”.
The text is supported by the parliamentary camp of President Sall. It needs the support of three-fifths of the 165 members of parliament to pass.
The tense parliamentary session follows a day of violent street protests in the Senegalese capital – during which at least one senior opposition figure was arrested – and amid growing international concern.
On Sunday, the government ordered a private television broadcaster off the air for “incitement to violence” over its coverage of the protests, another sign of the mounting political tension in the country.
‘We will vote’: Protesters in Dakar decry Senegal’s Macky Sall for postponing presidential election
Sall said Saturday he delayed the vote because of a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court over the rejection of candidates.
“I will begin an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election,” Sall added, without giving a new date.
Opposition leaders have used the term “constitutional coup” to describe the current situation, which they say is an assault on democracy.
The dispute Sall blamed for the delay to the election arose out of the decision by the Constitutional Court to exclude Karim Wade, son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, from running for the presidency.
He was barred because he allegedly also holds French citizenship – a decision he denounced as “scandalous”.
Wade’s supporters in the National Assembly called for a parliamentary inquiry into the partiality of two judges on the Constitutional Court.
To the surprise of some observers, members of Sall’s party were among those who voted for its passage on January 30.
Sall had designated Prime Minister Amadou Ba from his party as his would-be successor, but with the party split over his candidacy, he faced possible defeat at the ballot box.
Wade is not the only candidate the Constitutional Court has excluded from the vote.
Also barred from running is firebrand anti-establishment figure Ousmane Sonko, who has been jailed since July 2023.
His surrogate, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, has been approved to run and emerged as a credible contender to win – a nightmare scenario for the president’s camp.
The international community has reacted with concern to Sall’s decision to put off the vote.
The United States, European Union and former colonial ruler France have all appealed for the vote to be rescheduled as soon as possible.
The chairman of the African Union commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, urged Senegal to resolve its “political dispute through consultation, understanding and dialogue”.
Faki called on the authorities to “organise the elections as quickly as possible, in transparency, in peace and national harmony” in a post Monday on X, formerly Twitter.
It is the first time since 1963 that a presidential vote has been postponed in Senegal, one of the few African countries never to have experienced a coup.
Read moreSenegal vote postponement latest crisis to hit ‘West Africa’s most stable democracy’
Some protesters on the streets Sunday feared the worst, however.
“Macky Sall wants to make us slaves,” 44-year-old trader Ousmane Biteye told AFP.
“He dares to come up with such fallacious reasons for postponing the election, and what’s more just a few hours before the start of the campaign.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)