The Senegalese authorities banned a large silent march to which civil society had called, Tuesday February 13 in Dakar, against the postponement of the presidential election and the extension of the mandate of the head of state, Macky Sall, objects of a vast movement of indignation.
The march is being called into question, reported to Agence France-Presse (AFP) Elimane Haby Kane, one of the organizers, on behalf of the new collective Aar Sunu Election (“Let’s protect our election”). The collective, which brings together several dozen union organizations and citizen and religious groups, should speak later in the day, he said. Mr. Kane confirmed having received a letter from the prefecture prohibiting the march. The letter, posted on social media, says the protest “risks serious disruption” the circulation.
Aar Sunu Election asked the Senegalese to gather massively from 3 p.m. in a district close to the center of the capital. “We call on all Senegalese to come peacefully and participate in this silent march to say no to the postponement of the election, to say no to the extension of the mandate of the president, Macky Sall”said Monday to the press, Abdou Khafor Kandji, on behalf of Y en a marre, one of the groups that form Aar Sunu Election.
Demonstrations are subject to a permit regime and the authorities have refused to allow numerous opposition rallies to take place in recent years. Banned demonstrations have commonly degenerated into clashes, as was the case on Friday, when a large-scale protest was repressed by security forces. Three people were killed. Many Senegalese people wanted to respond to an appeal – to unidentified perpetrators – broadcast on social networks, but the police and gendarmes prevented them by force.
Senegal is in the grip of one of its most serious political crises in recent decades since Macky Sall announced the postponement of the presidential election on February 3, three weeks before the deadline. His supporters in the National Assembly and those of Karim Wade, a disqualified candidate, then endorsed the postponement of the election to December 15 and the maintenance of President Sall in his post until his successor takes office – a priori , therefore, at the beginning of 2025.
The possibility of an amnesty
This last minute change, exceptional in a country praised for its stability and democratic practices, provoked cries of “constitutional coup”. The opposition suspects the presidential camp of making arrangements with the calendar because it is sure of the defeat of its candidate, the Prime Minister, Amadou Ba, designated by Macky Sall to succeed him. She suspects a maneuver so that the president, whose mandate officially expired on April 2, remains in power. The head of state, elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2019, repeats that he will not run again.
The seriousness of the crisis raises fears of a new episode of violence such as the country experienced in March 2021 and June 2023 around the fate of the anti-system opponent Ousmane Sonko, declared presidential candidate, now detained and excluded from the race. The vagueness maintained by Mr. Sall over his candidacy for a third term then fueled tensions, until he announced, in July 2023, that he would leave it at that. Dozens of people have been killed since 2021, according to human rights defenders, and hundreds arrested.
The response of the authorities to recent attempts at mobilization, the use of force, the arrests, the ill-treatment suffered by a number of journalists, the temporary suspension of mobile data and the cutting of the signal of a critical television station for a few days of power have attracted new criticism. Major international partners of Senegal have expressed their concerns about the situation and called more or less explicitly for a reestablishment of the electoral calendar.
Macky Sall justified the postponement of the presidential election by the fierce quarrels sparked by the process of validating candidates. He said he wanted an indisputable election, worrying about the risk of new outbreaks of violence. He affirmed his desire to“appeasement and reconciliation” and proposed a dialogue to the rest of the political class. This attempt to reach out raises a multitude of questions, in particular on its acceptance by the opposition and on a possible release of opponents Ousmane Sonko, Bassirou Diomaye Faye and people imprisoned since 2021. Some media have raised the possibility of an amnesty , not confirmed by the presidency nor by the government.