Senegal’s President Macky Sall has indefinitely postponed the presidential election that was scheduled to take place on February 25.
Speaking in a televised address to the nation on Saturday, the president announced he had cancelled the relevant electoral law, citing a dispute over the candidate list.
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Sall said he signed a decree abolishing a November 2023 measure that had set the original election date.
“I will initiate an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election in a peaceful and reconciled Senegal,” he said, without giving a new date.
The announcement comes after the Constitutional Council last month excluded some prominent opposition members from the list of candidates.
The decision brought the integrity of the election process into question and fuelled growing discontent, with excluded candidates saying the rules for candidacy were not applied fairly – something the authorities have denied.
“These troubled conditions could seriously undermine the credibility of the ballot by sowing the seeds of pre- and post-electoral disputes,” Sall said, explaining why he delayed the vote.
The opposition Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), whose candidate Karim Wade was among those excluded from running in the election, had earlier submitted a formal request to postpone the vote.
However, the opposition PASTEF Party did not approve of the decision to pause the election. “We feel this is a constitutional coup,” Yassine Fall, PASTEF’s vice president, told Al Jazeera.
“Macky Sall is not doing this for us, he is doing this against us,” she said. “Macky Sall understands that if we go to elections, we will win by a landslide victory. But he wants to stay in power or have someone from his party to be elected. This is why he plays these kinds of games to come and manipulate the institutions illegally.
“We are right now at a very dangerous setback in our democracy because Macky Sall is taking responsibilities that are not his own.”
‘Faced with uncertainty’
Al Jazeera’s Nicholas Haque, reporting from Dakar, said Sall cited numerous reasons why the election could not take place.
“There has been doubt over the electoral process … That’s because some of the major candidates or political opposition leaders are not in the race,” he said.
Among those excluded are PDS’s Wade, who is in exile in Qatar, and was not allowed to take part in the race because of accusations that he had dual French-Senegalese citizenship, Haque said. Another excluded candidate, Rose Wardini, currently in detention, is also accused of having dual citizenship.
PASTEF’s popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko as well as his stand-in for this election, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, are also in jail, our correspondent explained.
“So the circumstances of the electoral process in what is normally one of the most stable democracies in the region seemed unstable. And that’s why President Macky Sall said he took that decision to delay the elections and call for national dialogue,” Haque said.
Sall has said that he will not run for a third term, a point he reiterated in his address on Saturday. “As for me, my solemn commitment not to run for the presidential election remains unchanged,” he said.
This is the first time a Senegalese presidential election has been postponed.
“[Senegal] has always had a peaceful democratic process and electoral process in which one president hands over power to the next, so this is really unprecedented for the government, for the electoral process, and for the Senegalese people,” Haque said.
“There were 20 candidates in the running. Now, the Senegalese people are faced with uncertainty on who will lead this country and, more importantly, when the election will take place.”