Senegal’s parliament voted to delay the presidential election from Feb. 25 to Dec. 15, after kicking out opposition leaders in a dramatic move that extends President Macky Sall’s stay in power by at least eight months. His term was set to end on April 2.
The vote followed Sall’s decision over the weekend to postpone elections, citing irregularities by the Constitutional Council, the country’s elections overseer, in the approval of candidates for the elections.
The ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar coalition, of which Sall’s Alliance for the Republic party is a part of, has a slim majority in parliament.
Sall’s election postponement had sparked street demonstrations on Sunday, during which police deployed tear gas to disperse protesters in the capital Dakar. Two opposition politicians, including former prime minister Aminata Toure, were detained by police but later freed. During Monday’s debate, security officers forcefully removed opposition lawmakers who were trying to stop the vote, and continued to fire tear gas on protesters outside the parliament, according to NPR, many of whom were arrested.
Residents in the city have reported difficulties accessing the internet on their mobile phones from service providers Orange, Expresso, and Free. A memo by Senegal’s communications ministry said internet access has been temporarily suspended to contain the spread of “several hateful and subversive messages.”
Opposition groups had gathered outside the National Assembly premises in Dakar to protest the tenure-extending vote by lawmakers. “We are going to resist the vote,” Yassine Fall, of the proscribed Pastef party associated with opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, told Semafor Africa. “If there is no election after April 2, Senegal has no president. The constitution is extremely clear that you cannot extend your term.”
The president’s announcement was rejected by most opposition parties, except the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) which had requestedlast week that the elections be postponed over the disqualification of its candidate Karim Wade for allegedly holding a French citizenship. Senegalese law bars people with dual citizenships from running for president.
Sall has been president since 2012, first serving a seven year term before a constitutional change in 2016 that reduced presidential terms to five years. Last July, he said he would not run for a third term, after previously fueling speculation by saying he had the right to do so after the revision to the constitution.
The View From Addis Ababa
The African Union on Sunday noted concern for the situation in Senegal, given the country’s reputation as a “model democracy” in Africa. It called for elections to be held as soon as possible, as did West African’s regional bloc Ecowas.