Macky Sall sets the date of elections in Senegal

Senegalese President Macky Sall dissolved his cabinet on Wednesday, replaced the Prime Minister and postponed the presidential election until March 24, according to a government statement. The move came weeks after Mr. Sall postponed the vote indefinitely, plunging the country into one of the deepest political crises in recent history, as many feared he would try to stay in power in beyond the limit of his mandate.

The election, which is likely to be one of the most closely watched in Africa this year, was initially set for February 25, but Mr. Sall unexpectedly postponed this date, without announcing a new date. He cited an investigation into alleged corruption at the Constitutional Court, but political opponents and some analysts called the move a constitutional coup. His decision Wednesday to set a date could allay some of the fears that he was trying to stay in power.

The political impasse has sparked concern among Senegal’s international allies, including the United States and European countries, who have long viewed the coastal West African country of 17 million people as a reliable diplomatic partner. . It is also a favored recipient of aid in a part of Africa that has been rocked by coups and where aging leaders have retained power despite constitutional limits.

The Constitutional Court, Senegal’s highest court, quickly overturned Mr. Sall’s attempt to delay the election last month. Shortly after the court’s decision, the president announced that he would leave power on April 2, when his term expires.

But who will lead the country between the April deadline and the inauguration of a new president remains unclear. Senegal could require a runoff election once results are known for the March 24 vote, but the government has not set a date for the runoff or specified who would govern the country in the meantime.

Mr. Sall also dismissed his Prime Minister, Amadou Ba, according to the press release. Mr Ba is the presidential candidate for Mr Sall’s party, and his dismissal on Wednesday added to confusion over whether Mr Sall still supported him.

Sidiki Kaba, the Minister of the Interior, will serve as Prime Minister, according to Yoro Dia, Mr. Sall’s spokesperson. Once the cabinet is dissolved, Mr. Kaba will form one of his own.

Mr. Sall has been in office for two terms and the Senegalese Constitution prohibits him from running for a third. The country has faced years of political upheaval and uncertainty. Over the past three years, during Mr. Sall’s second term, the government has jailed hundreds of protesters and political opponents, repeatedly banned demonstrations and shut down the internet.

However, in recent weeks, Mr. Sall’s government has softened its stance towards the opposition and civil society groups, once again allowing protests and adopting an amnesty law benefiting political prisoners. He also reopened the Cheikh Anta Diop University, one of the most prestigious in West Africa and a hotbed of protests. The university was closed last June after anti-government riots broke out in the capital, Dakar.

Mr. Sall also declared himself ready to pardon Ousmane Sonko, his biggest political opponent, who is in prison and prevented from running in the next elections.

Some analysts said that despite signs over the past two years that Mr. Sall might try to cling to power, he had backed down to preserve his and Senegal’s global image.

“Macky Sall was for a time the spoiled child of the international community, from France to the United States, including Russia and Arab countries,” said Alioune Tine, a famous Senegalese human rights defender who played an informal mediator role. between the president and the opposition in recent weeks.

“This capital was in danger of collapsing when he postponed the elections,” Mr. Tine said, but added that Mr. Sall “now wants to go out in an honorable manner.”

Nineteen candidates are scheduled for the presidential vote now scheduled for March 24, including Mr. Ba, the current former prime minister, and Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the candidate of the main opposition party. It is not clear whether Mr Sonko would be able to take part in the elections if Mr Sall granted him a pardon. Mr. Faye is his replacement.

Despite Mr Sall’s recent softening towards the opposition, critics say that during his 12 years in power he has significantly weakened Senegalese democracy. Dozens of protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces, and Mr Sall is set to leave the presidency amid deep unpopularity.

Mr. Sall’s defenders argued that he had never crossed the line into authoritarianism and that Senegal’s young democracy had experienced the kinds of challenges that many other similar democracies often face.

But his adversaries are not appeased. Sixteen of the 19 candidates in the running refused to participate in the dialogue organized by Mr. Sall last week to find a solution to the current political crisis.

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