EU says Senegal election delay 'taints' democratic tradition

The contentious vote paves the way for President Macky Sall - whose second term was due to expire in early April - to remain in office until his successor is installed, probably in 2025.

Feb 8, 2024 - 20:36
EU says Senegal election delay 'taints' democratic tradition

DAKAR - Senegal's recent decision to delay presidential elections until December "taints the long tradition of democracy" in the country and should be reversed, the EU has said, after the move plunged the normally stable West African nation into crisis.

The remarks on Wednesday from Brussels echoed earlier criticism from the US State Department, which had said a recent vote postponing the poll "cannot be considered legitimate".

The reactions were among the most critical to date of Senegal's move to push back the 25 February poll until late this year, sparking growing concern both at home and abroad.

Senegalese lawmakers voted almost unanimously in favour of the postponement on Monday night, but only after security forces stormed the chamber and removed some opposition deputies, who were unable to cast their votes.

Nabila Massrali, spokesperson for the European Commission, said the EU was "very concerned by the postponement" and called on those in power to quickly restore an "electoral calendar conforming to the constitution".

"This postponement taints the long tradition of democracy in Senegal and opens up a period of great uncertainty," she said, adding that the mandate of the EU's electoral observation mission to the country "should be reviewed" if the new schedule was confirmed.

On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller had expressed similar concern, saying the delay ran "contrary to Senegal's strong democratic tradition".

"We are particularly alarmed by reports of security forces removing by force parliamentarians who opposed a bill to delay the election, resulting in a National Assembly vote that cannot be considered legitimate given the conditions under which it took place," he said.

The contentious vote paves the way for President Macky Sall - whose second term was due to expire in early April - to remain in office until his successor is installed, probably in 2025.

Opposition members have said the country has been taken "hostage" and denounced the move as a "constitutional coup".

The West African bloc ECOWAS said Tuesday it "encourages" member state Senegal to urgently restore the electoral timetable, adding it was following events "with concern".

Senegal is often viewed as a bastion of stability in the volatile region and has never experienced a coup since gaining independence from France in 1960.


Washington and the EU also called on Senegal's government to respect freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.

Authorities on Monday cut access to mobile internet in the capital Dakar, citing the dissemination of "hateful and subversive messages" on social media, later restoring it on Wednesday morning.

It was a repeat of a move last June - when the government restricted mobile data amid high tensions in the country - and has become a common response to curb mobilisation and communication via social networks.

Security forces in Dakar have used tear gas to repress the sporadic protests that have materialised, although the mood on the street has so far not reflected the widespread outcry seen on social media.

The opposition and members of the press have reported dozens of arrests.

Three legislators who were either members or allies of dissolved opposition party PASTEF were arrested on Tuesday and later released, two party officials told AFP.

PASTEF had been at the forefront of a bitter stand-off with the state in 2021 and 2023.

Authorities dissolved the party in 2023 and imprisoned its leaders, Ousmane Sonko and Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

On Wednesday, opposition groups made common cause against Sall.

"The international community is in the process of abandoning Macky Sall," charged Amadou Ba, an attorney for Faye, as 11 opposition figures or their associates met to call on foreign states to withdraw recognition of Sall as head of state from April 2, when his mandate was officially due to expire before parliament extended it.


Opposition candidates, meanwhile, have stated their intent to carry on campaigning, and have urged unions and religious leaders to bring together voters with an eye to seeing due democratic process upheld.

Senegal's Constitutional Council has rejected anti-establishment firebrand Sonko's bid to run in the 2024 presidential election.

But it approved the candidacy of Faye, who emerged as a possible contender for victory - a nightmare scenario for the presidential camp.

President Sall said he postponed the vote because of a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council over the rejection of candidates, and over fears of unrest as seen in 2021 and 2023.

But the opposition suspects the delay is part of a plan by the presidential camp to avoid defeat, or even extend Sall's term in office, despite his reiterating on Saturday that he would not stand again.