What to learn about Senegal’s wide-open elections | EUROtoday

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DAKAR, Senegal — Voters in Senegal will forged their ballots Sunday in what’s among the many most wide-open elections within the nation’s historical past, following weeks of uncertainty about when the election would happen and months of confusion about who could be allowed to run.

For the primary time in Senegal’s historical past, the incumbent president isn’t on the poll. Instead, the highest contenders within the discipline of 19 candidates embrace President Macky Sall’s handpicked successor, Amadou Ba, a former prime minister; and Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a former tax collector. Faye has the backing of Ousmane Sonko, a well-liked rival of Sall’s barred by courts from working himself.

Sall final yr dominated out working for a 3rd time period — which might have been broadly considered as unconstitutional — however then shocked many at dwelling and overseas along with his choice final month to indefinitely delay the elections, marking one other first in Senegal’s historical past. He backed down following a choice by the constitutional court docket, and the elections Sunday shall be held lower than a month after the unique election date, which had been Feb. 25.

“The brutal, illegal way that Sall delayed the elections put our country at an impasse that we were only able to get out of because of the courts,” mentioned Maurice Soudieck Dione, a political science professor at Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis, Senegal. “And now we are going to have a very, very tight election.”

If no candidate wins greater than 50 % of the vote Sunday, then a runoff election shall be held subsequent month.

What is the worldwide significance of Senegal’s election?

Senegal is in a area beset by latest navy coups, together with in neighboring Mali in 2020 and 2021 and Guinea in 2021. More just lately, coups in Burkina Faso in 2022 and Niger final yr have come amid rising anti-Western sentiment.

In that context, Senegal — a coastal nation of 18 million — had turn out to be an more and more essential Western ally and brilliant spot for democracy. Since its independence from France in 1960, Senegal has had 4 transitions of energy and no navy takeovers. But issues emerged amongst home and worldwide observers in recent times as Sall grew to become more and more repressive, together with jailing journalists and opponents. Dozens of protesters died throughout violence that adopted trials in opposition to Sonko, which his supporters mentioned have been politically motivated.

But Mucahid Durmaz, a senior analyst on the danger consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, mentioned that “the turmoil if anything proves Senegal’s strong democratic culture.”

“There was a president with increasingly strongman tendencies,” he mentioned. “But also a vibrant civil society and strong institutions that kept him in check. It is important that the elections go smoothly and transparently, but overall, I am optimistic.”

How do the principle candidates differ?

Bassirou Faye, 43, is an anti-establishment determine who’s common with Senegal’s youths and has been boosted by his shut reference to Sonko. He has campaigned on renegotiating Senegal’s profitable oil and gasoline contracts, reconsidering its relations with France, and reviewing its foreign money, which is pegged to the euro and shared by a number of different international locations in West Africa. Faye had been jailed on fees together with defamation and contempt of court docket however was freed this month as a part of an amnesty deal.

In an interview with Reuters, Faye declined to say, if he prevails, what position Sonko would possibly play in a future administration.

Amadou Ba, 62, beforehand served because the economic system and overseas minister earlier than being named prime minister in 2022. A member of the ruling celebration, he’s seen as somebody who would proceed the insurance policies put in place by Sall throughout his 12 years in workplace. Durmaz described him as a “sensible politician” and a “behind-the-scenes technocrat who is used to solving problems but now finds himself on the public stage.”

What is Macky Sall’s legacy?

Sall’s 12 years in workplace have been marked by dramatic investments in infrastructure, together with a brand new rail system, a brand new airport and the creation of a metropolis, Diamniadio, which Sall says shall be a second city hub outdoors of the capital, Dakar. Senegal’s authorities additionally signed profitable contracts to take advantage of the nation’s oil and gasoline reserves, which analysts say will dramatically enhance the nation’s GDP within the coming years.

On the world stage, Sall has turn out to be a worldwide champion for the correct of Senegal and different growing nations to make use of their assets, together with fossil fuels, to industrialize and develop.

Sall, who served because the chair of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, has additionally made Senegal an more and more essential world participant, mentioned Alioune Tine, a rights professional and founding father of the AfrikaJom Center, a Dakar-based analysis group. “Macky is the darling of world powers,” Tine mentioned. “Putin, Macron, the Americans, all of them … he reinforced a tradition of strong Senegalese diplomacy.”

But in recent times, Sall’s legacy has been marred by the rising repression. Senegal dropped 55 locations to 104th on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders between 2021 and 2023. Sall has additionally been broadly criticized for not ruling out a 3rd time period earlier; for his remedy of Sonko, who was below home arrest for months earlier than being freed below the amnesty deal; and the choice to delay the elections.