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Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko listens to the presidential candidate he is backing in the March 24 election, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, as they hold a joint press conference a day after they were released from prison, in Dakar, Senegal March 15, 2024.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Sonko takes the reins in Senegal

Newly inaugurated Senegalese President Bassirou Diomaye Faye, in his first act in office, appointed his mentor Ousmane Sonko as prime minister on Wednesday. The popular, reform-oriented Sonko will be the driving force behind big changes. Case in point: Faye's manifesto proposed an audit of the oil, gas, and mining sectors, which could bring more cash from natural resource extraction into Dakar’s coffers.

Sonko was banned from running for president in the most recent elections, but Faye subbed in, even using the slogan “Diomaye is Sonko.” Sonko is now calling the shots, says Eurasia Group analyst Tochi Eni-Kalu.

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FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Senegalese presidential candidate Amadou Ba holds a poster during his campaign rally in Guediawaye on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal March 10, 2024.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo

Election delay fuels close contest in Senegal

Voters in Senegal face a choice between continuity or a new direction for West Africa’s most stable democracy as they head to the polls Sunday.

The country’s reputation for fair and peaceful transitions of power looked like it was at risk last month when President Macky Sall called for a 10-month delay of elections scheduled for Feb. 25. The move was an attempt to buy time to bolster support for his party and its candidate, Amadou Ba, but it backfired, according to Eurasia Group analyst Tochi Eni-Kalu.

"The Constitutional Council pushed back against proposals to delay the election beyond the end of Sall's mandate on 2 April, leaving him with no choice but to accept their rulings in the face of opposition and public pressure" he says.

Opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye is now riding a wave of momentum thanks to anger over the delay, but it likely won’t be enough to get him over the 50% mark he needs to win outright. If Ba also falls short, they go to a runoff, and that’s where it gets interesting. Unlike other close elections in Senegal, in 2000 and 2012, the opposition isn’t necessarily unified against the incumbent.

“The key thing to watch is how the other big fish align,” says Eni-Kalu.

If Ba and his BBY party remain in power, Eni-Kalu expects broad continuity with Sall’s administration. A Faye victory could see Senegal take on a more nationalist tack, though it’s not clear how far he can push the most radical proposals, like leaving the CFA Franc currency union.

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