Senegal: Macky Sall to Address Senegal, As Calls to Set Election Date Intensify

President Macky Sall of Senegal

Senegalese President Macky Sall has promised he will address the nation on Thursday evening in a bid to quell rising anger over the delay in setting a new election date. The opposition says it will carry out a series of actions to ensure the poll is held before Sall's mandate ends on 2 April.

President Macky Sall announced on Wednesday evening he would speak to the media on Thursday at 7pm GMT.

He'll be live on the national broadcaster RTS, on iTV and on Seneweb for an hour, answering questions from journalists.

The country has been plunged into uncertainty since 3 February, and Sall's unilateral decision to postpone the polls originally set for 25 February.

The majority in Parliament then voted to hold the election in December, a proposition which was highly contested by the opposition and civil society.

Then the Constitutional Council invalidated the president's decision altogether.

Nineteen candidates, no date

The Constitutional Council on Tuesday published an amended list of candidates for the election, removing just one candidate from the initial list, Rose Wardini, after she herself withdrew her application.

No clear frontrunner has emerged yet, with an unprecedented number of candidates bidding to become Senegal's next president.

But Birame Souleye Diop, ex-Pastef's vice-president, told RFI that pre-election polls gave the opposition party some 71 percent of the vote.

Sall's mandate ends on 2 April, and the Senegalese constitution states that the presidential election should take place before he leaves office, and that he should not stay in place after this date.

Yet, the new date remains undecided, and thousands of Senegalese have vowed to continue their demonstrates until a new electoral process is in place.

This week, opposition candidates accused the authorities of "dragging their feet on setting a new date."

In a joint statement late on Tuesday, 15 of the 19 presidential contenders complained about an "inexplicable slowness" in enacting the council's ruling.

They said the slow resumption of electoral operations showed Sall's unwillingness to launch a process that would lead to a change of power.

The citizen collective Aar Sunu Election (Let's protect our election) said it would hold a rally in the capital Dakar on Saturday, the day before the election was due to have taken place.

It called on participants to come with their voter cards, for what it described as Sall's "farewell party".The collective also urged voters to head to polling stations on Sunday in a symbolic gesture.

Some candidates and analysts suggested 3 March as a new date.

Democracy at stake

In his New Year address, Sall had called for peaceful elections after a year marked by violence.

He blamed the opposition for this, but NGOs like Human Rights Watch (HRW), Reporters Without Borders, and Amnesty International reported that since 2021, Senegalese authorities have increasingly used repression to crackdown on opposition leaders, media and civil society.

Last year saw a complicated legal battle for Ziguinchor mayor Ousmane Sonko, who ended up in jail in July, and lost his right to run as an opposition candidate.

The newly chosen candidate for his former party (Pastef, dissolved by the authorities), Bassirou Diomaye Faye, is however still in prison.

Since 15 February, in a move to appease the opposition, the government has released 344 people considered as political prisoners by their parties.

The Minister of Justice Aïssata Tall Sall told RFI that "others should follow".

But she added that, even though civil society is "calling for the release of Ousmane Sonko", liberations are treated "case by case", and "without any bias, without being arbitrary".

Elected for the first time in 2012, Macky Sall had campaigned against his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade, as an outsider promising to defend democracy and to respect the constitution.

Now, he's regularly accused of trying to hang on to power.

"Sall is holding consultations with political actors," Boubacar Ndiaye of the Timbuktu Institute told RFI.

According to the Senegalese analyst René Lake, "by insisting on the use of 'dialogue' to define the 'best deadlines', Macky Sall seems to embrace a delaying tactic, potentially delaying the date of the election to manoeuvre according to his political interests of the moment".

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