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Clashes as Senegal parliament debates presidential poll delay

By AFP

February 5, 2024 08:19 PM


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Senegalese lawmakers on Monday debated an unprecedented move to delay this month's presidential election, which sparked clashes outside parliament and has prompted international concern.

Security forces used tear gas to disperse small groups of opposition protesters outside the National Assembly.

Demonstrators chanted "Macky Sall dictator" in reference to the president after being scattered.

The sporadic clashes were a rare sight in the normally calm area of downtown Dakar, where police and security forces backed up by heavy vehicles were mobilised to protect parliament.

The mood in Senegal -- often viewed as a bastion of stability in coup-hit West Africa -- has been tense since Saturday when President Macky Sall announced a delay to the February 25 vote, just hours before campaigning was officially set to begin.

Demonstrator Malick Diouf, 37, said he had no preferred candidate and did not even have a voting card, but felt it crucial to come and protest.

"The main thing for me is to say 'no' to this political agenda, this coup de force to try to stay in power," he told AFP.

Opposition leaders have denounced the proposed delay as a "constitutional coup", saying it is an assault on democracy.

Violent street protests rocked the capital Dakar on Sunday, during which two opposition candidates, including former prime minister Aminata Toure, were arrested and later released.

The government early on Monday suspended mobile internet access, citing the dissemination of "hateful and subversive messages" on social media.

It was a repeat of a move last June, which saw mobile data restricted amid high tensions in the country. The measure has become a common response to curb mobilisation and communication via social networks.

Parliamentarians later began considering a proposal for a delay of six months or even up to a year, until February 2025, according to the text distributed at the meeting.

The text -- adopted a day earlier by a preparatory committee -- is supported by MPs from Sall's party.

But it will need the support of three-fifths of the 165 deputies to pass and does not appear to be a done deal.

The vote was expected later in the day on Monday.

 

- Unprecedented move -

 

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the situation is unprecedented in Senegal.

The country has never experienced a coup since gaining independence from France in 1960, making it a rare outlier in a volatile region.

The proposed delay has sparked growing international concern, with the United States, European Union and France all appealing for the election to be rescheduled as soon as possible.

The chairman of the African Union commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, also urged Senegal to resolve its "political dispute through consultation, understanding and dialogue".

The crisis has led to fears of the kind of violent unrest that broke out in March 2021 and June 2023, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests.

Tensions soared over speculation that Sall was considering running for a third term, until he eventually confirmed last July that he would not stand again.

Despite outrage on social media at the weekend, anger over the delay of the presidential vote did not spill into the streets in large numbers.

But the opposition suspects the postponement is part of a plan by the presidential camp to avoid defeat, or even to extend Sall's term in office, despite him saying on Saturday he would not stand for re-election.

Sall has designated Prime Minister Amadou Ba from his party as his would-be successor.

However, with the party split over his candidacy, he faced possible defeat at the ballot box.

Sall said Saturday that he delayed the vote because of a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council over the rejection of candidates.

The Constitutional Council in January approved 20 candidates but excluded dozens of others -- including high-profile opposition candidates.

Sall said there was a risk of pre- and post-electoral disputes and new clashes as in 2021 and 2023.


AFP


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