Senegal election delay was legal despite backlash, says minister

By Thomson Reuters Feb 9, 2024 | 10:16 AM

By Ngouda Dione and Cooper Inveen

DAKAR (Reuters) – Senegal’s Justice Minister Aissata Tall Sall defended on Friday the abrupt postponement of the presidential election as constitutional, while acknowledging it had triggered the biggest political crisis in the nation’s history.

Less than three weeks before the Feb. 25 poll, parliament voted to push it back to December, sealing an extension of President Macky Sall’s mandate that has provoked fears one of coup-hit West Africa’s remaining democracies is under threat.

Sall, who has reached his constitutional limit of two terms, said he delayed the vote due to a dispute over the candidate list that threatened the credibility of the electoral process.

Some critics accuse him of trying to cling to power, while the West African bloc and foreign powers have criticized the move as a break with Senegal’s democratic tradition.

Tall Sall, who is not related to the president, said in an interview the postponement was not the president’s decision, but parliament’s. She also said legal challenges filed to the Constitutional Court did not fall in its jurisdiction.

“This postponement of the presidential election was done in perfect conformity with the constitution of Senegal, and with its laws and its regulations,” said Tall Sall, adding that it was initiated by a group of parliamentarians.

The bill was passed by 105 legislators in the 165-seat assembly after security forces broke up an attempt by a group of opposition members to block the vote and dispersed street protests with tear gas.

Thirty-nine lawmakers in opposition coalition Yewwi Askan Wi and several opposition presidential candidates have since filed legal challenges with the Constitutional Court.

Tall Sall said the court could not handle these because they did not fall in its purview. She did not say which legal body would look at the challenges, but said the fact opponents were turning to the courts meant “we are in a functioning democracy.”

However, she conceded the postponement had pitched Senegal into unprecedented uncertainty.

Senegal has so far been spared the coups and conflict that have destabilised parts of the region in recent years. This is the first time that a presidential election has been postponed since its independence from France in 1960.

Opposition groups have planned a mass protest for Friday afternoon.

“Senegal has perhaps never experienced a crisis like the one we are experiencing and we must overcome it,” said Tall Sall.

(Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Andrew Cawthorne)