Nearly seven million Senegalese are called to the polls on Sunday, July 31, in a general election that could prompt President Macky Sall to seek a new mandate if his troops are essential.
The shadow of the 2024 presidential elections is already hanging over Senegal. No fewer than seven million voters have an appointment at their polling station on Sunday 31 July to elect their future MPs. The single-pass vote aims to renew the 165 National Assembly seats, now largely controlled by the Presidential Party, for the next five years. And, according to the opposition, could persuade President Macky Sall to want to run for a third term if his camp wins.
“The 2024 election has been omnipresent in this general election campaign, both in the presidential and opposition camps. This is a life-size test of the state of the country’s political forces, especially as the election takes place in a context of significant changes in the politico-religious sphere in Senegal,” analyzes Bakary Sambe, director of the Senegalese think tank Timbuktu Institute.
On the way to a third candidacy?
With 19 months to go before the presidential election, the opposition therefore wants to use the parliamentary elections to force the head of state to live together and to give up any hint of a new candidacy. Many observers have accused Macky Sall, who was elected for a seven-year term in 2012 and re-elected for five years in 2019, of wanting to run for a third term – like the Ivorian Alassane Ouattara and former Guinean President Alpha Condé before him, who were brutally ousted in September military coup.
Asked about his ambitions by Jeune Afrique magazine at the end of May, Macky Sall, who is also the acting President of the African Union, again left room for doubt: “I will answer this question after the general elections. Then we need to set the course for 2024.” However, a constitutional amendment passed in 2016 limits the number of presidential terms in this country, which is a democratic example in West Africa, to two. Still, voices suggest that this reform could have reset the counters to zero.
This general election will therefore be a test for the presidential party, which was already weakened by an electoral setback in last March’s local elections. The opposition had emerged victorious in several key strategic locations such as Dakar, the capital, and Ziguinchor, the largest city in the south of the country. “If Macky Sall loses [les législatives]he will no longer talk about a third term,” assured Ousmane Sonko, who heads the main opposition coalition, Yewwi Askan Wi.
The latter has allied itself with Wallu Senegal (Save Senegal), formed around ex-President Abdoulaye Wade, 96. The pact concluded between the two coalitions stipulates that the worse-off of the two commits to support the other in one department. With a very specific goal: to maximize the chances of a parliamentary majority. An unimaginable prospect for the head of state: “The opposition wants to live together? You know very well that even in developed countries this is rarely a success. I cannot imagine such a scenario in Senegal. We are under a presidential regime: we elect a president while giving him the majority to govern,” he told Jeune Afrique.
Many observers denounce a democratic decline in Senegal. The Constitutional Council dashed the hopes of the Yewwi Askan Wi coalition in June by invalidating the national list of incumbents and effectively eliminating opposition leaders like Ousmane Sonko, who was omnipresent during the election campaign. A controversial decision that led to clashes in the capital and Casamance on June 17. The demonstrations, which were not authorized by the government, killed three people and injured many. The arrest of Ousmane Sonko after allegations of rape had already provoked deadly violence in the capital in March 2021.
Another theme of this election: the mobilization of young people, who make up 75% of the Senegalese population, and whom the candidates must convince to vote in the context of rising prices related to the consequences of the war in Ukraine.