Multiple of the top contenders to succeed Sall — most notably, popular opposition figure Ousmane Sonko — had been barred by the courts from running in the election. Protests over Sonko, who faced multiple charges that critics said were politically motivated, were among the deadliest in Senegal’s history, with more than a dozen people killed during protests last June.
Sall’s announcement of his decision not to seek reelection has been followed by a period of relative calm. But the decision to delay the vote — which was announced just hours before official campaigning was scheduled to start — could fuel a new round of protests in Senegal, where frustration with the political process was already running high.
Senegal’s elections had been a rare bright spot for democracy activists in the region, where a spate of military leaders have seized power in coups in recent years, including most recently in Niger and Gabon. Military juntas also wield power in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
In the Ivory Coast and Togo, presidents are currently serving past the two terms originally mandated by their constitutions. (The president of the Ivory Coast said there’d been a “reset,” while Togo’s legislature changed its law).
In Senegal on Friday, one of the other opposition parties, representing Senegal’s former president’s son Karim Wade, who was barred from running because he is a dual-citizen, had requested that the election be delayed because of how the constitutional court’s decision-making had played out.
But a coalition representing ex-Dakar mayor pushed back, saying that a delay would represent an “institutional coup d’état” and create “unprecedented political instability.”
Sall said during his address that he had canceled the relevant electoral law because of the electoral disputes. He promised to hold an national dialogue to ensure that elections were fair, but offered no timeline.