Clashes outside Senegalese parliament

Home International Clashes outside Senegalese parliament
Clashes outside Senegalese parliament

DAKAR – Security forces used tear gas to disperse an opposition rally outside Senegal’s parliament yesterday, shortly before the start of a contentious debate on postponing this month’s presidential election. Several dozen protesters could be heard chanting “Macky Sall dictator”, referring to the incumbent president, after being scattered by security forces.

Senegal has been grappling with a political crisis since president Macky Sall on Saturday announced a delay to the 25 February presidential poll, just hours
before campaigning was set to officially begin.

Opposition leaders have denounced the move as a “constitutional coup”, saying it is an assault on democracy. Access to mobile internet was cut in several districts of the capital Dakar yesterday, AFP journalists saw.

The government also suspended mobile data last June, amid high tensions in the country. The measure has become a common response to curb mobilisation
and communication via social networks. It comes a day after violent street protests shook Dakar, during which security forces also fired tear gas at demonstrators, and at least one senior opposition figure was arrested.

The situation has sparked growing international concern, with the United States, European Union and former colonial ruler France all appealing for the vote to be rescheduled as soon as possible.

From 11h00, lawmakers were set to vote on a proposal to postpone the presidential poll for up to six months. The text needs the support of three-fifths of the 165 deputies to pass, and does not appear to be a done deal.

Opposition figures had called for a demonstration outside the National Assembly, which is heavily protected by dozens of police officers and security forces backed up by heavy vehicles.

One of the demonstrators, Malick Diouf, 37, said he was backing no candidate and did not even have a voter’s card, but felt it crucial to come and protest. 

“The main thing for me is to say ‘no’ to this political agenda, this coup de force to try to stay in power,” he told AFP.

It is the first time since independence in 1963 that a presidential vote has been postponed in Senegal, one of the few African countries never to have experienced a coup. The international community has reacted with concern to Sall’s decision to put off the vote.

The chairman of the African Union commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, urged Senegal to resolve its “political dispute through consultation, understanding and dialogue”. Faki called on the authorities
to “organise the elections as quickly as possible, in transparency, in peace and national harmony”, in a post yesterday on X, formerly Twitter.

The crisis has led to fears of another outbreak of the kind of violent tensions seen in Senegal in March 2021 and June 2023, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests. Sall said Saturday that he delayed the vote because of a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council over the rejection of candidates.

The Constitutional Council in January approved 20 candidates for the race, but excluded dozens of others — including
high-profile opposition candidates. 

“I will begin an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election,” he

But the opposition suspects the postponement is part of a plan by the presidential camp to avoid defeat, or even to extend Sall’s term in office, despite him repeatedly saying on Saturday he would not stand for re-election. He has designated prime minister Amadou Ba from his party as his would-be successor.

However, with the party split over his candidacy, he faced possible defeat at the ballot box.

An opposition MP, Ayib Daffe, claimed on social media that deputies who support Sall had proposed extending his term in office by a year at a preparatory meeting for yesterday’s session. – Nampa/AFP