Senegal has always been seen as West Africa’s leading democracy, but President Macky Sall’s decision to postpone the country’s presidential election barely three weeks before the polls threatens the country’s democracy.
Protests hit the streets of Senegal’s capital city, Dakar, after the West African country’s National Assembly postponed the country’s presidential election.
The National Assembly passed a bill to extend President Macky Sall’s stay in power for 10 extra months by postponing the presidential election initially billed to take place on February 25, 2024.
Leading opposition candidate Khalifa Sall, who is not related to the president, called the postponement a “constitutional coup.” The former mayor of Dakar urged his supporters to protest against the decision as his coalition vowed to challenge the election delay in court.
Another presidential candidate, Thierno Alassane Sall, who is also not related to the president, described the postponement as “high treason” and also urged his supporters to protest in front of the National Assembly and “remind MPs to stand on the right side of history.”
Senegal has always been seen as the bastion of West African democracy, but the circumstances surrounding the postponement of the presidential election threaten the reputation of its democracy.
President Macky Sall decided not to run for another term in office but proposed a bill that was initially intended to postpone the election by six months.
Local reports say the atmosphere was heated in the parliament while deliberations were made for the bill, which led to the forceful removal of some MPs by security forces as they tried to block the proceedings.
President Sall’s ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar coalition has a slight majority in parliament, and the proposal needed the backing of three-fifths (99 out of 165 deputies) to pass.
After long deliberations, 105 MPs voted for the proposal and made a last-minute amendment, which extended the delay from six to ten months.
Despite President Sall’s reiteration of his desire not to run for office again, critics say he is either trying to stay longer in power or trying to influence the outcome of the election.
Senegal is the only country on mainland West Africa that has never witnessed a military coup.
Three successful, peaceful handovers earned the country a reputation as one of Africa’s leading democracies.
This is the first time a presidential election will be postponed in the country.
It will be recalled that in 2017, Senegalese troops spearheaded the West African mission that ousted President Yahya Jammeh from power in The Gambia after he refused to accept defeat in his country’s election.
The West African region has been hit by coups, and President Sall has been a key actor in the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) push for military handover to civilian rule in the region.
Senegal’s democracy faces a crucial test, and some analysts fear that a military coup might be imminent if the unrest is not contained by the government.