Polls have closed in Senegal’s parliamentary elections pitting President Macky Sall’s ruling party against an opposition coalition energised by food price hikes and fears the incumbent leader could run for a controversial third term in 2024.
Polling stations opened at 08:00 GMT and closed at 18:00 GMT on Sunday. Partial results are expected late on Sunday with provisional overall figures to be given no later than Friday.
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Approximately seven million voters are eligible to elect 165 deputies in the National Assembly amid a politically tense atmosphere in the West African nation.
Violent protests broke out last year after Sall’s main opponent, Ousmane Sonko, was arrested on rape charges, and more than a dozen people were killed.
Sonko, who came in third in the 2019 election, denies the allegations and his supporters have been vocal about their opposition to the president.
This year, he and another of Sall’s key opponents were disqualified as candidates, which sparked more widespread anger and protests in which three people died in June.
Senegal, with a population of 17 million, is known for its stability in a region that has seen coups in three countries since 2020 and where leaders have changed laws to remain in power for third terms.
Sunday’s election will give a clearer indication of what could happen in 2024.
Even though Sonko’s candidacy was rejected by the Constitutional Council, he has organised opposition supporters across Senegal.
A victory for the opposition “would be synonymous with the rejection of a possible third candidacy for Sall and a probable victory in the next presidential election”, Ngom said.
No comment on third term yet
Sall’s Benno Bokk Yakaar governing party currently holds 75 percent of the legislature’s seats.
Sall’s refusal to publicly rule out a candidacy in 2024 has stoked fears he will follow in the footsteps of Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara and former Guinea President Alpha Conde. Both men stood for – and won – third terms in 2020 by arguing that new constitutions had reset their two-term limits.
Senegal adopted constitutional revisions, which among other things reduced presidential terms from seven to five years, in 2016.
Dissatisfaction with Sall, 60, has risen as possible adversaries – including the popular former mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall, and former President Abdoulaye Wade’s son Karim Wade – have been targeted by the judiciary and disqualified from running for office.
Many accuse Sall of using his power to eliminate opponents.
Anger has also grown amid economic worries as fuel and food prices have skyrocketed due to the war in Ukraine.
Senegal’s former prime minister and head of the governing party, Aminata Toure, appealed to the country’s youth to vote.
“The youth must participate massively in the vote in thanks to President Macky Sall for the extraordinary work he has done for Senegal,” he declared in Kédougou in the southeast.
Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diom toured polling stations around the country and declared that all the arrangements had been made for a smooth vote, despite floods in the past few weeks.