3 February 2012

Senegal: Controversies and Fear of Election-Related Violence Ahead of the Presidential Poll in Senegal

Photo: allAfrica.com
A protestor being taken away by police.


On Friday, 27 January, the Conseil Constitutionnel (Constitutional Court) of Senegal announced its much-anticipated verdict on the validity or lack thereof of the various candidatures for the forthcoming presidential elections scheduled for 26th February.

In its verdict, the Court validated the candidature of incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade and rejected that of three independent candidates. The latter include the internationally renowned music legend, Youssou Ndour. This immediately sparked waves of violence from opposition supporters that had assembled in the centre of Dakar for the whole day, awaiting the verdict of the Court. A police officer perished in the ensuing violence while many buildings were set alight. The opposition has vowed to do everything it can to prevent President Wade from running, considering his attempt for re-election for a third term as a "constitutional coup" in view of the constitutional clause that limits the presidential terms to two.

There is no denying the fact that the incumbent president is very advanced in age (85) and that running a country requires a lot of energy that he might not necessarily have, should he be re-elected. It is also true that some of his decisions and actions over the last 12 years have been quite controversial. It is equally true that he is vying for a third term and that the spirit of the 2001 constitutional amendment would have commanded him not to seek another term. However, it is necessary to engage with the objective facts of the debate and leave aside the subjective (or even emotional) ones in a bid to provide a more accurate analysis of the situation.

In their opposition to Wade's candidature, opposition figures have put forth two main arguments, both of which have been rejected by the Constitutional Court. The first and the most prominent one is that Wade, having been elected for the first time in March 2000, and re-elected in 2007, would be violating the spirit of the 2001 constitutional amendment and the text of Article 27 of the constitution, which limits the presidential terms to two.. However, the Court notes that Wade's candidature is not a violation of the Constitution in that when he came to power in 2000, the Senegalese constitution did not provide for a term-limit. It is Wade, through an amendment in 2001, that introduced this and, at the same time, reduced the length of presidential terms from seven to five years. But he still served for seven years for that first tenure, which no one disputed, indicating that everyone agreed that the new amendment could not be applied "retroactively", and this is a well-known legal principle. And when the length of presidential terms was changed in yet another amendment in 2008 to move back from five to seven, Wade did not insist on serving for seven years, as this happened while he was already servicing his current term of five years, as per the 2001 amendment. The issue therefore seems to be a consideration between the spirit and the text of the constitution and, evidently, when these two collide, the latter prevails from a purely legal point of view.

The second argument made by Wade's former prime minister and opposition candidate, Macky Sall, was to argue that the Court should not have validated his candidature because, in his declaration and application of candidature in early January, he did so in the name of his Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) and an alliance of other parties and movements supporting him, called "Forces alliées 2012" (Fal 2012 or Allied forces 2012). According to the protesting opposition candidate, this contradicts the constitutional provision that requires partisan candidates to be nominated by "a registered political party or alliance of parties" and not by two of them. But the Court did not see this a double nomination, as the Fal 2012 is not a constituted political party and is only supporting the PDS.

Some argue that the Court, staffed by five judges appointed by Wade, was biased in his favour. While this might be possible, albeit not certain, it should be noted that the same Court rejected the appeals of Wade's supporters against the candidature of Sall, as well as two other opposition candidates and former Wade allies, namely Wade's former Prime Minister, Idrissa Seck and his former foreign minister, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio. Members of the ruling party had argued that the trio (including Sall) had not paid their taxes and that the law prevented anyone indebted to the taxman from standing for elected positions. The Court did not find them at fault and validated their candidacies.

The other controversy emanates from the invalidation of Ndour's candidacy, which, it would appear, is fuelled more by the fame of the singer than by the substance of the verdict. For in addition to Ndour, two other candidates, Abdourahmane Sarr and Kéba Keinde, had their candidatures invalidated. The common denominator between the trio is that they are "independent candidates" not supported by any political party. Yet, Article 28 of the Constitution stipulates, inter alia, that any presidential aspirant not supported by a registered political party should include in his application the endorsing signatures of at least 10 000 registered voters. According to the Court, all three provided that number, with Ndour and Keinde submitting more than 12 000 signatures each but that they could only verify those of 8 911 for Ndour and 8 154 for Keinde.

As such, one could argue that the Constitutional Court reached a pertinent verdict. But this notwithstanding, it is preoccupying from a conflict prevention point of view that there is a high likelihood of election-related violence in the country, as opposition supporters have vowed to continue protesting. In view of this, and despite the law being on the side of president Wade, he would be well advised to consider renouncing his decision to run, particularly given his age and for someone who has always claimed that he is in favour of enabling the young generation. If he thinks he has development projects that only "he" can implement, then he may have failed to convince his collaborators about the pertinence of such projects. He cannot be the only person in Senegal that is capable of developing the country.

Should Wade insist to go ahead, perhaps the best strategy for the opposition going forward is in unity, but it is not likely having failed to do so in the past, despite promising attempts within the context of the Benno Siggil Senegal (Uniting for a Prosperous Senegal). This lack of unity can largely be attributed to personality quarrels among some of the opposition's heavy weights, particularly Ousmane Tanor Dieng of the former ruling Socialist Party (PS) and Moustapha Niasse of the Alliance of Forces of Progress (AFP), both candidates under their banner of their respective parties. What is preoccupying however,, is the likelihood of election-related violence, either prior, during or after the poll in February. Having deserted his own PS party in 1998 and allied himself with Wade during the second round of the 2000 election, it would appear that many PS members find it hard to rally behind Niasse. Yet Niasse (72), may consider himself aging and find his chances of becoming president diminishing as time goes by. In fact, there are reports that he implicitly made this argument during discussions with Benno, promising to serve only one term, given that Dieng, 64, could still count on other terms. Indeed, agreement on the sacrifices and contributions that members of a coalition have to make, is one of the key conditions for the success or lack therefore of alliances according to game theories of coalition-building.

Issaka K. Souaré, Senior Researcher/Acting Project Manager, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis, ISS Pretoria

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