Senegal opposition cries coup as presidential election delayed 10 months and violent protests grip Dakar
Johannesburg — Senegal’s parliament voted Monday to delay crucial national elections until Dec. 15 after chaotic scenes in the chamber that included opposition members being dragged out by police in riot gear. Opposition leaders denounced the proceedings as “a constitutional coup” as a motion was debated and then voted on that will, having passed, keep President Macky Sall in office for almost another year.
Sall first announced in a nationally televised address on Saturday that he was delaying the election until December, arguing it was necessary due to corruption allegations made against the country’s constitutional council. He said the dispute needed to be resolved before the vote could proceed.
Fiery protests broke out immediately in front of the National Assembly, as people took to the streets and police resorted to tear gas to try to restore order in the normally peaceful west African nation.
With the Monday night vote, Senegal’s lawmakers appear to have cemented the delay, meaning Sall will likely remain in power for months to come — well beyond his election mandate and against the stipulations laid out in the country’s constitution.
Two of the candidates who’d been set to compete in the presidential election originally scheduled for Feb. 25, one of them being former Prime Minister Aminata Toure, were among those arrested during protests on Sunday and later released.
“The situation is completely catastrophic, Senegal’s image is ruined, and I don’t think we’ll be recovering from this democratic bankruptcy, this tsunami in the rule of law, any time soon,” the AFP news agency quoted opposition deputy Ayib Daffe as saying after Monday’s parliamentary vote.
Before the lawmakers gathered for the Monday session, the internet had been cut off and a TV station that has been critical of the government was shut down.
Sall has said he’s trying to avoid a crisis, but that notion hasn’t been taken seriously, especially after he hinted at the possibility of vying for a third term despite the presidential two-term limit in Senegal’s constitution.
Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Senegal has been one of the most stable democracies in a region plagued by upheaval, which has enabled solid economic growth. Over the last three years alone there have been fiveacross West African nations, as well as three others that saw constitutional coups. Four attempted coups were averted during the same period.
U.S. officials, as well as fellow leaders from the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, and the African Union have all expressed concern over the election delay.
Speaking during a daily briefing on Monday, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said the U.S. government had not yet assessed the circumstances as a coup, but that it was closely monitoring developments and was “deeply concerned about the situation in Senegal.”
“Senegal has a strong tradition of democracy and peaceful transitions of power,” Patel said. “While we acknowledge allegations of irregularities, we are concerned about the disruption of the presidential election calendar, and we urge all participants in Senegal’s political process to engage in — peacefully, to engage peacefully in the important effort to hold free, fair, and timely elections. We also call on Senegalese authorities to restore internet access immediately and to respect freedom of expression, including for members of the press.”
Asked how the U.S. could support Senegal’s democracy, Patel said Washington had “lines of effort through technical and financial support, as well as working directly with election authorities and civil society.”
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