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Is Senegal at Risk of Political Unrest?

Sall's announcement and the resulting outcry have sparked concerns that Senegal could witness a resurgence of the violent protests seen over the past three years. These protests were fueled by fears that Sall might seek a third term and allegations of sidelining political opponents.

On Monday night, Senegal’s parliament voted to delay the presidential election originally scheduled for February 25th, pushing it to December 15th. This decision extends President Macky Sall’s mandate, marking an unprecedented departure from the democratic norms of the West African nation.


Does Senegal’s president’s abrupt decision to postpone the upcoming presidential election by 10 months seriously threaten the nation’s political stability and peace?


Senegal has been a steadfast democracy in West Africa, amidst recent military coups in the region. Sall’s action raises concerns of potential authoritarianism, increased violence, and economic setbacks for Senegal’s population of 17 million, along with heightened regional insecurity.

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Why was it postponed?
Sall, ineligible for re-election due to reaching the constitutional limit of two terms, announced the postponement of the poll citing concerns over disputes regarding the candidate list and alleged corruption within the constitutional body responsible for its compilation. In a surprise address to the nation, delivered just hours before the official start of campaigning, he expressed worries that these turbulent circumstances could significantly undermine the credibility of the election by fostering pre- and post-electoral conflicts.

Public Outcry
Even though the candidate for the opposition Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), whose inclusion on the final list was denied due to dual nationality issues, backs the postponement and introduced the bill for the delay in parliament before Sall’s announcement – other opposition factions and civil society organizations have vehemently opposed the postponement, with certain groups accusing Sall of engineering an “institutional coup” to prolong his time in office. According to documents from the Constitutional Council, at least three out of the 20 presidential candidates have lodged legal challenges against the postponement.

Two additional candidates have pledged to contest the decision through legal channels, indicating the potential for an extended legal dispute.

Why worry?
It is unusual as Senegal has a history of conducting presidential elections without delay, with four peaceful transitions of power through the ballot box since gaining independence from France in 1960. This track record has established Senegal’s reputation as one of the more stable democracies in West Africa.

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The sudden decision to postpone the election has disappointed many who expected Senegal to adhere to its customary electoral process. This departure from the norm comes at a time when democratic practices are dwindling in West Africa due to military interventions and constitutional manipulations in several countries in recent years.

What is next?
Sall’s announcement and the resulting outcry have sparked concerns that Senegal could witness a resurgence of the violent protests seen over the past three years. These protests were fueled by fears that Sall might seek a third term and allegations of sidelining political opponents.

Following the decision to postpone the election until December 15th, ECOWAS, the main political and economic bloc in West Africa, expressed its apprehension and urged politicians to take measures to restore an electoral schedule in accordance with the constitution. Despite ECOWAS’s previous efforts to encourage democratic stability in the region through sanctions and other means, these efforts have largely been ineffective.

Barclays analysis cautioned that a postponement could set a precedent for further delays and afford the president greater latitude in his actions. Moody’s, a ratings agency has also warned that a prolonged delay in the election could impede the country’s planned fiscal consolidation by complicating the implementation of policies, such as the phased elimination of energy subsidies by 2025.

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