Senegal election results: Who is Diomaye Faye, tipped to be next president?

Faye, a former tax inspector, has pledged to weed out corruption, restore stability and prioritise economic sovereignty.

Senegal’s main opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye appears to have won Sunday’s presidential election.

The electoral body has yet to release details about the results as vote counting is under way. Official results are expected to be announced in the coming days. But results released so far already show Faye with more than 50 percent of the vote – which eliminates the need for a run-off.

His supporters have been celebrating on the streets of the capital, Dakar, amid hopes that the new administration might address persistent poverty and corruption.

The outgoing governing coalition’s candidate, former Prime Minister Amadou Ba, on Monday conceded defeat to Faye hours after saying he was ready for a run-off vote. Incumbent President Macky Sall has also congratulated Faye on his victory.

Here is more about Faye and what the results may mean for the future of Senegal’s democracy.

Who is Bassirou Diomaye Faye?

Faye has been thrust into the centre of Senegalese politics more than a week after he was released from prison along with his firebrand mentor Ousmane Sonko, who was disqualified from standing in the election because of a defamation conviction.

The 44-year-old leader contested the elections as an independent due to the dissolution of his Patriots of Senegal (PASTEF) party last July for causing unrest. The PASTEF party, which was founded by Sonko in 2014, endorsed Faye.

The left-wing populist has been organising protests against President Macky Sall accusing his government of corruption and failing to address chronic poverty. Sall’s decision to extend the elections originally scheduled for February triggered the latest round of political crisis.

The elections were held after the intervention of the Constitutional Court.

Faye was born in 1980 in west-central Senegal’s Ndiaganiao. He met Sonko while working as a tax inspector in the government’s taxes and estates department, where they were instrumental in the formation of a labour union.

Why was Faye in prison?

In April 2023, Faye was arrested on charges including spreading false news, contempt of court and defamation of a constituted body, for a social media post.

Sonko was arrested on multiple charges in July 2023 including provoking insurrection, conspiring with “terrorist” groups, endangering state security and immoral behaviour towards individuals younger than 21.

Faye, alongside Sonko, was released late on March 14, days before the vote, after an amnesty law was passed this month.

What are his policies?

Faye, a former tax inspector, has pledged to weed out corruption, restore stability and prioritise economic sovereignty, appealing to the urban youth frustrated by unemployment in the West African country where 60 percent of the population is aged under 25.

He wants to rid Senegal of the CFA franc inherited from the colonial era, which is pegged to the euro. He proposes introducing a new currency instead. The CFA franc, backed by the French treasury, is accepted in 14 member countries.

Additionally, he wishes to renegotiate mining and hydrocarbon contracts. The country is expected to start hydrocarbon production this year.

The biggest challenge for the new leader would be to address the more than 20 percent unemployment rate.

“It’s an injustice that I can’t find work. I was given a state diploma and the state can’t find work for me,” Yacoub Diouf from Senegal told Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque.

Who were the other candidates in the fray?

Nineteen candidates were in the fray to replace outgoing President Sall, who has been in power since 2012. Sall’s second term was marred by political unrest over the prosecution of Sonko.

The second-placed Amadou Ba was backed by Sall. Victory for Ba, 62, would have meant a continuation of the previous government’s policy.

Other candidates included former Prime Minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, who dubbed himself the “president of reconciliation”, and the two-time mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall, who was running for the fourth time and has already congratulated Faye.

Al Jazeera’s Haque reported that women who contribute largely to the country’s service sector are a significant voting demographic. However, the only female candidate was entrepreneur and political newcomer Anta Babacar Ngom, who runs Senegal’s largest poultry company. Ngom has already wished Faye success as the leader of Senegal in an X post.

In July 2023, Sall announced that he would not contest the election for a third term following deep political unrest, iterating that Senegal’s constitution would have allowed him to. Sonko had called for Sall to bow out of this election, accusing him of cracking down on the opposition to sideline competition. Sall provoked further controversy after he delayed the election that was originally set for February 25.

Term limits have been a hotly debated topic in Senegal for the past two decades. When former President Abdoulaye Wade came to power in 2000, the constitution did not have term limits. Wade amended it in 2001 to impose a two-term limit. However, to extend his own time in office, Wade successfully campaigned for a third term, earning the approval of Senegal’s highest court.

At least seven of the 19 candidates in the race have issued statements congratulating Faye on his win.

About 71 percent of the 7.3 million registered voters showed up to the polls, according to state television RTS.

On Tuesday, final provisional results are expected. Official results may be announced by Friday.

What could the results mean for the future of Senegal’s democracy?

A victory for Faye is a good sign for democracy in Senegal, said Alioune Tine, founder of the think tank Afrikajom Center and Amnesty International’s former regional director for West and Central Africa.

“Democracy was sick with political violence, with state violence, with death,” Tine told Al Jazeera, referring to the political violence of the last few years. He added that Sonko being unable to contest elections further showed that democracy was sick.

“But he [Sonko] had the brilliant idea of nominating his number two to be a candidate,” he said.

Tine added that a positive aspect of Senegal’s democracy is that since independence, it has never allowed a military coup, unlike other West African countries where political crises have amounted to coups.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies