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Macky Sall, Ousmane Sonko, Karim Wade… Who are the actors in the political crisis in Senegal?

Outcry in Senegal. The country entered a new political crisis after the announcement on Saturday of the indefinite postponement of the presidential election initially scheduled for February 25. This decision, taken by President Macky Sall, aroused the ire of the opposition, and mobilized demonstrators in the street on Sunday. With, at the heart of the hurricane, many political figures having their cards to play.

Macky Sall, an isolated president

President Macky Sall, elected twice at the head of Senegal, is not seeking a new term.  AFP/Ludovic Marin
President Macky Sall, elected twice at the head of Senegal, is not seeking a new term. AFP/Ludovic Marin AFP or licensors

The Senegalese head of state, aged 62, was first elected in 2012, for seven years, then re-elected in 2019, for five years. After maintaining the mystery over a new candidacy, Macky Sall finally announced, in July 2023renounce a new mandate.

This former member of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), founder of the Alliance for the Republic, a centrist and liberal party, had set the presidential election for February 25 in a decree dated November 29, 2023. He had even promised, at the end of December, to hand over power to the elected president at the end of the vote, reiterating this promise several times.

Before a final turnaround: on Saturday, he announced that he had repealed his November decree due to political unrest which could prevent the vote from taking place, therefore postponing the process to an indefinite date. A decision which aroused the anger of the opposition. “The arguments put forward by Macky Sall do not seem entirely convincing,” comments Caroline Roussy, research director at Iris and specialist in West Africa. “This situation could place him in isolation, because all the parties react to his announcement differently,” she adds.

Amadou Bâ, the president’s heir apparent in difficulty

Amadou Bâ has been named as the presidential party candidate for the 2024 Senegalese election. REUTERS/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool
Amadou Bâ has been named as the presidential party candidate for the 2024 Senegalese election. REUTERS/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool AFP or licensors

Currently Senegalese Prime Minister, Amadou Bâ is one of the twenty candidates whose candidacy for the Senegalese presidential election has been validated. Member of the Alliance for the Republic (APR-Yaakaar), the presidential party, he was designated as the heir apparent to Macky Sall, who is not seeking a new mandate.

But the candidate’s chances seemed slim: the 62-year-old Prime Minister is contested within his own ranks, and faces dissidents, such as the former Minister of the Interior Aly Ngouille Ndiaye, or the former Prime Minister Mahammad Boun Abdallah Dionne, recalls The world. Several executives from the same camp already estimated, in December, that Amadou Bâ “would not even pass the first round”.

Karim Wade, the revenge candidate

The son of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, Karim Wade, in Dakar in 2008. AFP/Georges Gobet
The son of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, Karim Wade, in Dakar in 2008. AFP/Georges Gobet

Son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, Karim Wade, 55, is one of the candidates rejected by the Senegalese Constitutional Council, in charge of validating the list of contenders for the election. At issue: his dual Franco-Senegalese nationality at the time of submitting his application, while the Constitution requires that “any candidate for the presidency of the Republic must be exclusively of Senegalese nationality. After a short stint in prison for an “illicit enrichment” case, Karim Wade had already tried to run in 2019, but his candidacy was also invalidated for constitutional reasons.

Following his ouster, elected officials from his camp, the Senegalese Democratic Party, launched a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the functioning of the Constitutional Council, suspecting him of “corruption”.

Born in Paris, Karim Wade studied in France, worked in the United Kingdom and lived in Qatar. A life spent abroad which was already damaging his credibility as a Senegalese candidate, comments Caroline Roussy. Especially since it will be difficult for the president’s son to break away from “the aura of his father”, Abdoulaye, at the head of Senegal for twelve years.

Ousmane Sonko, the prevented opponent

Opponent "anti-system"Ousmane Sonko has been in prison since July 2023. AFP/John Wessels
“Anti-system” opponent, Ousmane Sonko has been in prison since July 2023. AFP/John Wessels AFP or licensors

He is also one of the candidates set aside: Ousmane Sonko, imprisoned since this summer, had been disqualified by the Constitutional Council for defamation. Since 2021, Senegal has been plagued by several episodes of riots, looting and demonstrations, caused by the standoff between this 49-year-old anti-system opponent and the government. Unrest which caused the deaths of dozens of people and gave rise to hundreds of arrests.

Ousmane Sonko, targeted by various legal proceedings which he denounced as so many stratagems to exclude him from the presidential race, was indicted and imprisoned in 2023 for calling for insurrection, criminal association linked to a company terrorist and attack on state security. His party, the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (Pastef), was dissolved. But he named a successor, supposed to take over during the election.

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the anti-system “plan B”

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, from Pastef, is presented as the "little brother" of the opponent Ousmane Sonko.  Screenshot Youtube/TV5MONDE Info
Bassirou Diomaye Faye, from Pastef, is presented as the “little brother” of opponent Ousmane Sonko. Screenshot Youtube/TV5MONDE Info

Ousmane Sonko presented him as his “little brother”, “more honest” and “extremely brilliant”. Born in 1980, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a trained tax inspector, was nominated by the imprisoned opponent as Pastef’s presidential candidate. Problem: the latter has also been behind bars since 2023, for charges of contempt of court, defamation and acts likely to compromise public peace. His arrest followed the publication of a message critical of justice.

Until the announcement of the postponement of the presidential election, the candidate had established himself in recent weeks as a credible candidate for victory, a nightmare scenario for the presidential camp. But questions remained around the conditions of his campaign from prison, while his candidacy was validated by the Constitutional Council.

On January 22, Bassirou Diomaye Faye had also submitted a request for release, rejected by the courts. A decision which provoked the fury of the coalition supporting his candidacy. “The regime persists in its desire to despoil the rights of any opponent,” she denounced.

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