Photo: John Wessels Agence France-Presse The opposition called on Monday for demonstrations in front of the National Assembly of Senegal, placed under the high protection of dozens of gendarmes and police supported by heavy vehicles. The country has been in the grip of great tensions since President Macky Sall announced on Saturday the postponement of the presidential election scheduled for February 25.
Adrien Marotte – Agence France-Presse and Soulé Dia – Agence France-Presse in Dakar
Senegalese deputies examine on Monday a controversial text which would allow the presidential election to be postponed and which caused new clashes outside the National Assembly, transformed into a citadel by the police presence.
In the hemicycle, the debates take place in an electric atmosphere. Deputies came to blows, leading to an interruption of the session at the beginning of the afternoon.
Around Parliament, the gendarmes repelled attempts to gather at the call of the opposition with tear gas. Small groups retreated further, chanting “Macky Sall dictator”, named after the Senegalese president.
Senegalese representatives must vote on Monday on a report adopted the day before by the preparatory committee and proposing to postpone the presidential election by six months or even a year, depending on the content of this text distributed during the session and supported by the presidential camp.
Approval requires a three-fifths majority of the 165 deputies. It is not acquired.
“Let us not be the Assembly of Shame. Let’s make sure when we leave here that we can look at our children with pride to say that we were the last wall,” said Abass Fall, an opposition MP.
“President Macky Sall said he would serve two terms. He respected his word,” said Moussa Diakhate, president of the law commission, pro-government.
The Plateau district, seat of political decision-making, offered the extremely rare spectacle of protesters in small numbers playing cat and mouse with the security forces among the Dakar residents going about their activities around the Assembly placed under the protection of dozens of gendarmes and police supported by heavy vehicles.
“The main thing for me is to say no to this political agenda, this coup to try to stay in power,” one of the demonstrators, Malick Diouf, 37, told AFP years.
Senegal, renowned as an island of stability in West Africa, has been in the grip of great tensions since President Sall announced on Saturday, a few hours before the opening of the campaign, the postponement of the presidential election scheduled for February 25.
This decision, virulently denounced by its detractors as a “constitutional coup”, plunges the country into the unknown and raises fears of a boiling point. It caused an uproar among qualified candidates and in civil society.
It gave rise to the first rallies repressed on Sunday and to the first arrests, including those of the candidate Anta Babacar Ngom and the former Prime Minister Aminata Touré, finally released.
Mobile data internet has been cut off. The Ministry of Telecommunications cited the dissemination of “hateful and subversive messages” on social networks.
The government had already suspended access in June 2023, in a context of political crisis.
International partners concerned
Adoption or rejection, the situation, unprecedented in a country which has regularly elected its presidents and has never experienced a coup d'état, a rarity on the continent, will remain highly volatile.
It arouses concern abroad. The Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the United States, the European Union, France and the United Kingdom, important partners of Senegal, have asked to work on a new date, and called for dialogue between the actors of the crisis.
Mobilization in Senegal against the indefinite postponement of the presidential election
This makes Senegal fear a new bout of fever like those it experienced in March 2021 and June 2023, which caused dozens of deaths and gave rise to hundreds of arrests.
The vagueness maintained for months by President Sall on a new candidacy in 2024 had contributed to the tensions at the time. He finally announced in July 2023 that he would not seek a new mandate.
Despite widely shared indignation on social networks, the protest against the postponement of the presidential election did not massively reach the streets. The University of Dakar, a historic center of protest, has been closed since the unrest of 2023, and the anti-system Pastef party has been tested by the arrests.
The opposition, however, denounces an authoritarian drift in power. With the postponement of the presidential election, she suspects a plan to avoid the inevitable defeat, according to her, of the presidential camp, or even to prolong the Macky Sall presidency, despite the commitment reiterated on Saturday by the latter not to run again.
The candidate of the presidential camp, Prime Minister Amadou Bâ, is contested within his own ranks and faces dissidence.
President Sall invoked the serious conflict which broke out between the Constitutional Council and the National Assembly after the final validation by the court of twenty candidacies and the elimination of several dozen others. He alleged the risk of pre- and post-election protests and new clashes as in 2021 and 2023.