Senegal's President Macky Sall Bows to Pressure On Election

Président of Sénégal Macky Sall,
19 February 2024

Following days of protests, Sall's government released 300 prisoners in Senegal. The civil society now wants the election to be held before the end of his term in April.

At least 300 political prisoners have been released within 48 hours in Senegal. Most of them had been arrested by security forces during protests and then detained.

For days, the Senegalese authorities had restricted protests with police operations and arrests of opposition activists. The government imposed a ban on demonstrations and cut off mobile internet.

It now seems that people are slowly reclaiming their right to demonstrate and their freedom of expression with an authorized march through the streets of Dakar and other cities over the weekend.

Protesters arbitrarily detained

Nina Penda Faye, a civil society activist, told DW that she is relieved by the new political developments. "We are happy that they [political prisoners] have regained their freedom," Penda Faye said.

At the same time, she spoke of her frustration at how Senegalese citizens had been arbitrarily detained without taking their rights into account.

On February 3, President Macky Sall postponed the election date, which was initially scheduled for February 25, triggering widespread uproar in the country many observers view as a stable democracy.

Last week, the Senegalese Constitutional Council declared the postponement of the election date to be null and void.

The judges also ruled that a parliamentary vote for a new election date on December 15 was illegal.

President Macky Sall, who has come under increasing internal and external pressure, now wants to hold the presidential election as soon as possible, according to the statement published on the "DakarActu" platform.

No electoral campaigns

Since Sall canceled the election, there have been no more campaigns. Several opposition politicians have been arrested during protests.

Bara Dieng, 39, was released from prison a few weeks ago. Dieng, who works as a carpenter, is a former political prisoner. He was sentenced to eight months in prison without parole. He told DW that he was imprisoned for supporting jailed opposition politician Ousmane Sonko.

In 2014, Sonko founded the "African Patriots of Senegal for Labor, Ethics, and Fraternity Party" (PASTEF), which was later dissolved by the authorities. Sonko is considered a strong critic of the president and was arrested in June 2023 -- he remains in prison.

Arrested for supporting Sonko

Sonko supporter Bara Dieng said he was not demonstrating on the day he was arrested. "I stayed at home."

The social and economic consequences have been harsh for the carpenter. "I lost many of my markets. I'll never forgive that in my life and I will file a lawsuit for defamation."

Pushing for election before April

The "Synergie des organizations pour la sauvegarde de la paix" (SOS/Paix), a coalition of 18 civil organizations, is proposing that the presidential elections be held between March 3 and 10.

Most political actors are calling for the elections to be held before April 2, the end of Macky Sall's term of office. According to election expert Djibril Gningue, this would be in line with the Constitutional Council's decision.

"Having determined that it is impossible to keep the date of February 25, the Constitutional Council has asked him to set a date as soon as possible," Gningue told DW, adding that Sall should abide by the council's decision "so that everyone involved knows soon."

However, the announced consultations between outgoing President Macky Sall and the 20 candidates for the next presidential elections are hardly getting off the ground due to political differences and interests.

Only 20 of the 79 presidential candidates who had submitted their candidacies were registered for the election.

Martina Schwikowski contributed to this article.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu

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