Senegalese President Macky Sall on Saturday announced the indefinite postponement of the presidential election scheduled for February 25, just hours before official campaigning was due to start.

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In an address to the nation, Sall said he had signed a decree abolishing a previous measure that set the date as lawmakers investigate two Constitutional Council judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned. “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.

It is the first time that Senegal has delayed a presidential vote. Its four largely peaceful transitions of power via the ballot box since independence from France in 1960 have built up its reputation as one of West Africa’s most stable democracies.

Last month, the Constitutional Council approved 20 candidates but disqualified dozens of others from the race, including opposition leaders Ousmane Sonko and Karim Wade.

Sall had repeatedly said he would hand over power in early April to the winner of the vote. After announcing he would not run for a third term as president, Sall designated Prime Minister Amadou Ba from his party as his would-be successor.

Inquiry on Constitutional Council

Senegal’s parliament on Wednesday approved a commission of inquiry into the workings of the Constitutional Council – the body which both finalises the list of candidates and announces the winner of the election.

Many MPs from the president’s own party unexpectedly voted in favour of the inquiry, fuelling speculation that they could be trying to delay a vote they fear losing.

The campaign to establish an inquiry was launched by disqualified candidate Wade. He has accused two of the seven members of the Constitutional Council of having links with presidential hopefuls, including Prime Minister Amadou Ba, endorsed by the outgoing president.

Before the president’s speech, the influential League of Imams and Preachers of Senegal on Saturday warned of the dangers of postponement and appealed directly to President Sall to take steps to avoid fuelling instability.

“Any attempt to postpone the elections would be fraught with pointless risks,” it said in a statement. “As Senegal is stable in all respects and on track for elections, the wisest decision for the head of state would be to do everything possible to ensure that free and transparent elections are held.”

Senegalese voters are due to choose a successor to President Sall, who is not seeking a third term. For the first time in Senegal’s history, the incumbent is not on the ballot. His handpicked successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, is among 20 candidates cleared by the constitutional council to run.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP & Reuters)

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