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Dakar, Senegal.- In photos taken on March 24, 2024, Bassirou Diomaye Faye (photo), leader of the main opposition party casts his vote during the presidential elections.

Handout / Latin America News Agency via Reuters Connect

Opposition candidate Faye wins Senegal’s presidency in landslide

Preliminary results on Monday showed opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye winning Senegal’s presidential election outright with 53% of the vote. Incumbent party candidate and former Prime Minister Amadou Baconceded to Faye ahead of official results, meaning the country will avoid a runoff vote.

Faye is a close ally of the popular opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, who was barred from standing because of a defamation conviction, but is expected to play a major role in Faye’s administration. Outgoing President Macky Sall delayed elections from their intended February date, in part to buy time to improve his party’s standing against Sonko, but was checked by the country’s Constitutional Council.

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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.

Senegal’s democracy at risk as president calls off election

On Saturday, President Macky Sall called off the election for his replacement without naming a new date, which means he will remain in power extralegally, thrusting the former rock of West African stability into crisis. On Monday, Sall called a special session of Parliament to consider a bill endorsing his decision and allowing a delay of up to six months.

What happened? Karim Wade, son of Sall’s predecessor and a political rival, was running for president but a constitutional court blocked his candidacy last month, alleging he held dual French and Senegalese citizenship. Wade claims he had renounced his French citizenship, and his party launched an investigation into two of the court’s justices last week. Then, in a masterstroke of political judo, Sall backed the investigation – and used it as the excuse to call off the elections.

Will Sall get away with it? The opposition parties rejected the cancellation, and police used tear gas on scattered groups of protesters in Dakar on Sunday, but the mass of civil society did not take to the streets. If elections do go forward – there’s no guarantee – the constitution requires 80 days' notice, and who knows how long the inquiry will take.

On the international stage, the Economic Community of West African States expressed concern but did not condemn the cancellation. ECOWAS has struggled to maintain democratic unity, with military juntas seizing control of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in recent years, all of which announced their withdrawal last week.

Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko speaks during a news conference in Dakar.

REUTERS/Cooper Inveen

Senegalese opposition leader sentenced, 2024 bid in peril

On Thursday, at least nine people were killed in Senegal in violence that erupted after opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail for "corrupting youth" by encouraging the debauchery of an underage massage parlor employee – whom he was simultaneously acquitted of raping and issuing death threats against. This is a very big deal since it might bar Sonko from running for president of the West African nation in February 2024, and it’s unclear whether he can appeal.

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