Senegal: The president seeks to appease, civil society to mobilize

A collective of civil society groups on Thursday called on Senegalese people to demonstrate massively and strike against the postponement of the presidential election, as President Macky Sall seeks to calm tempers in the face of the outcry.

A new platform, Aar Sunu Election (“Let’s protect our election”), which calls for around forty citizen and religious groups and professional organizations, including several education unions, called on the Senegalese to “mobilize en masse” against what was described to the press as a “forfeiture”.

Representatives of the groups spoke in a room too small to accommodate all the journalists of a demonstration on Tuesday, a general strike on an unspecified date and a walkout in schools on Friday.

The collective calls on the faithful to go to the great Muslim Friday prayer dressed in white and the national colors.

There is no telling to what extent these calls will be followed up. As if stunned by the last-minute postponement of the election from February 25 to December 15, civil society and the opposition are seeking to organize the response.

The postponement of the election, which seems to bring Senegal back to square one in a perilous electoral process and whose constitutionality is strongly doubted, has caused widely shared indignation.

The opposition cries “constitutional coup”. She suspects a scheme to avoid the defeat of the presidential candidate, or even to keep Mr. Sall at the head of the country for several more years.

But the shock barely materialized anywhere other than on social networks. Attempted demonstrations were repressed and dozens of people arrested.

The demonstrations are subject to authorization from the administration which, according to rights defenders, has almost systematically banned those of the opposition in recent years.

Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested since 2021 during different episodes of protest.

Internal logic

President Sall decreed on Saturday the postponement of the presidential election, just three weeks before the deadline, in the midst of a political fight over the candidates selected or rejected for the vote.

The National Assembly approved on Monday a postponement until December 15, with the votes of the presidential camp and supporters of a failed candidate and under the protection of the gendarmes.

She also voted to maintain Mr. Sall in power until his successor takes office, probably in early 2025. Mr. Sall’s second term officially expired on April 2.

After maintaining doubt for months, he repeated on different occasions, and again on Wednesday evening, the commitment made in 2023 not to run again.

The authorities have given no sign of being ready to reconsider the postponement despite the bronca.

Faced with one of the most serious political crises in recent decades, President Sall declared Wednesday in the Council of Ministers his desire to initiate a process “appeasement and reconciliation”reports a press release from his services.

He has “asked the government, in particular (the) Minister of Justice, to take the necessary measures to materialize its desire to pacify the public space”, adds the press release without further clarification.

At the same time, President Sall is facing international pressure.

The Community of West African States (ECOWAS) brought together the foreign ministers of the member states in Nigeria, and Senegal, renowned as one of the organization’s good students, appeared for the first time in a long time on the crisis menu at the side of the secessionist states, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger.

ECOWAS asked Senegal on Tuesday to restore ” urgently ” the presidential election calendar.

The European Union, aligning itself with ECOWAS, in turn called for a return to February 25. Another ally, the United States, deemed the vote postponing the election illegitimate.

These partners of Senegal expressed their concern at the risk of unrest, but also at the blow to democratic practice of which Senegal is readily cited as an example in a region where putsches and faits accomplis follow one another.

“We hear this message well,” Foreign Minister Ismaïla Madior Fall said Wednesday evening from Nigeria on French television France 24, “but today we favor internal political logic.”

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