After the president announced an indefinite postponement, the international community is calling for a new date and a transparent poll.
Senegalese police cracked down on protests in the capital Dakar, arresting at least one opposition leader a day after President Macky Sall announced the indefinite postponement of presidential elections scheduled for February 25.
The European Union said on Sunday that the postponement begins a “period of uncertainty” and the United States called for a new date for free polls to be set immediately.
In a televised address to the nation on Saturday, Sall announced that he had rescinded the relevant election law, citing disputes over the list of candidates.
He said he had signed a decree repealing the November 2023 measure that set the original election date, but did not specify a new date. Last month, Senegal’s Constitutional Council removed some prominent opposition members from its list of candidates.
Tear gas is fired at demonstrators
On Sunday, hundreds of people, young and old, took to the streets in response to calls from opposition candidates.
Former Prime Minister Aminata Touré, now a leading figure in the opposition, posted on X that she was arrested while participating in a protest. She served as prime minister under Sall’s government, after which she joined the opposition party and became one of its most outspoken critics.
Touré condemned Sall’s decision to postpone the election, describing it as an “unprecedented setback for democracy” and calling on people to rally to protect their rights.
In Dakar, police fired tear gas to disperse opposition supporters in the first clashes after Sall’s announcement, AFP news agency reported.
Men and women waving Senegalese flags and wearing national soccer team jerseys gathered at a roundabout on one of the capital’s main roads.
Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haq, reporting from the outskirts of Dakar, said all 19 opposition candidates had called on their supporters to gather there.
“It feels like the security forces don’t want the gatherings. [cancelling the elections] Will be published… then [it] are not maintained,” said Haq.
“Some opposition figures I spoke to said this was a ploy by him to hang on to power, while others described it as a constitutional coup.
“A motorcyclist…screamed ‘I’m going to burn everything down’. All the protesters we spoke to are angry at that decision. feel deprived of the ability to express themselves in elections.”
Private television channel Wolf TV has been suspended for “inciting violence” over its coverage of street protests, a communications ministry official told AFP.
Further protests are planned outside parliament on Monday. Lawmakers on Monday will consider a bill to schedule a postponed general election for Aug. 25 and extend Sall’s term until a successor takes over, Reuters reported.
“Inclusive and credible elections”
France, the country’s former colonial power, said Senegal must end the “uncertainty” and called for a vote “as soon as possible”.
“The European Union… calls on all parties to strive… to hold transparent, inclusive and credible elections as soon as possible,” EU spokeswoman Nabila Masrari said in a statement on Sunday.
Senegal has traditionally been seen as a rare example of stable democracy in West Africa, which has seen a spate of coups in recent years, including in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Noting Senegal’s “strong tradition of democracy and peaceful transitions of power,” the U.S. State Department said: “To all participants: [the] The electoral process must be peaceful and new dates and conditions for timely, free and fair elections must be set quickly. ”
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc said in a statement that Senegalese politicians must “prioritize dialogue and cooperation towards transparent, inclusive and credible elections” and urged authorities to “set a new election date”. “to expedite various processes for setting up ”.
Opponents suspect the president’s camp fears defeat of his anointed successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba.
Sall announced on Saturday a “national dialogue” to organize “free, transparent and inclusive elections”, saying Senegal is in the midst of deadly political violence in March 2021 and June 2023. He said the country could not afford to “fall into another crisis.”
The country’s election law requires a gap of at least 80 days between the announcement of a new presidential vote and Election Day, so the earliest a new date could theoretically be late April at the earliest.
Sall’s presidential term is due to end on April 2nd.
Analysts say the crisis is testing one of Africa’s most stable democracies, as the region struggles with a recent surge in coups.
Senegal is embroiled in political tensions ahead of a crucial vote following deadly clashes between opposition supporters and the disqualification of two opposition leaders.