By Babacar Dione, The Associated Press on February 5, 2024.
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) – Senegal’s parliament voted Monday to delay the West African nation’s presidential election till Dec. 15 in a chaotic voting process that took place after opposition lawmakers were forcefully removed from the legislative building.
Security forces stormed the legislative building and forcefully removed several opposition lawmakers who had been trying to block the vote. In the bill adopted by the National Assembly, Sall’s tenure – which was due to end on April 2 – will be extended until a new election.
The lawmakers had convened to deliberate on the election delay bill following the decision by President Macky Sall to postpone the vote initially scheduled for Feb. 25, a first in Senegal’s history. Sall had cited an electoral dispute between the parliament and the judiciary as reason for the postponement but opposition leaders and candidates rejected the move, calling it a “coup.”
A group of protesters who were kicking against the delay were earlier dispersed by tear gas outside the building and on the streets of Dakar.
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Senegal’s government on Monday restricted mobile internet access and impeded protesters as federal lawmakers deliberated late into the evening on a bill to extend President Macky Sall’s tenure following his decision to postpone the country’s Feb. 25 presidential election – a decision now being challenged by opposition candidates in court.
Sall announced in July that he would not seek a third term in office. On Saturday, he cited questions over the approved list of candidates and other election controversies for his decision to delay this month’s vote.
Members of the National Assembly were deliberating on a bill that recommends a postponement of up to six months. Some opposition lawmakers vowed to vote against the legislation, which, if approved, would put the next likely election date in August, four months after Sall’s presidency is due to end.
On Monday, two opposition parties filed a court petition challenging the election delay. Their request for Senegal’s Constitutional Council to direct “the continuation of the electoral process” could likely set up a prolonged legal dispute and further deepen existing tensions between lawmakers and the judiciary.
The African Union urged the government to organize the election “as soon as possible” and called on everyone involved “to resolve any political dispute through consultation, understanding and civilized dialogue.”
Outside the legislature, security forces fired tear gas to disperse opposition supporters who assembled to protest against the bill. Protesters also burned tires and blocked access roads in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. Several were arrested.
“We will not accept a constitutional coup in this country. It is up to the people to come out and liberate themselves,” said Guy Marius Sagna, an activist and opposition lawmaker.
The private Walf television network, whose signal was cut off as they broadcast the protests on Sunday, said their broadcasting license has been revoked.
“The government’s abrupt shutdown of internet access via mobile data and Walf TV’s broadcasting … constitutes a blatant assault on the right to freedom of expression and press rights protected by Senegal’s constitution,” Amnesty International’s regional office for West and Central Africa said in a statement.
None of Senegal’s presidential elections have been postponed before. Sall said he signed a decree to delay the upcoming one because of a dispute between the judiciary and parliament over the disqualification of some candidates and the reported dual-nationality of some qualified candidates. Opposition leaders condemned his action as a “coup.”
The Ministry of Communication, Telecommunications and Digital Economy said mobile internet services were cut Monday “due to the dissemination of several hateful and subversive messages relayed on social networks in the context of threats and disturbances to public order.”
Political tensions have run high in Senegal for at least a year. Authorities also cut internet access from cellphones in June 2023 when supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko clashed with security forces. Sonko is one of two opposition leaders whom election authorities disqualified from the final list of presidential candidates this month.
Analysts say the crisis in Senegal could further threaten West Africa’s stability at a time when the region is struggling with a recent surge in coups and threats to democratic institutions.
Sall’s decision to postpone the election “reflects a sharp democratic decline” in Senegal, said Mucahid Durmaz, a senior analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
“The growing democracy deficit not only threatens to tarnish Senegal’s reputation as a beacon of democratic stability in the region but also emboldens anti-democratic practices in West Africa,” said Durmaz.
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