Senegal’s legislative elections test ruling party’s influence

Senegal held legislative elections on Sunday in a vital test for opposition parties that are trying to minimize the ruling party’s influence ahead of the 2024 presidential election amid fears that President Macky Sall could run for a third term.

about seven million voters are eligible to elect 165 deputies to the National Assembly amid a politically tense atmosphere in the West African country.

Violent protests erupted last year after Mr. Sall’s main opponent Usman Sonko was arrested on rape charges and more than a dozen people were killed.

Mr. Sonko, who came third in the 2019 election, denies the allegations, with his supporters vocal in their opposition to the president.

This year, he and another of Mr Sall’s main opponents were disqualified as candidates, prompting wider outrage and protests that resulted in the deaths of three people in June.

Senegal, with a population of 17 million, is known for its stability in a region that has seen coups in three countries since 2020 and where leaders have changed laws to stay in power for a third term.

Sunday’s elections will give a clearer picture of what could happen in 2024.

If the opposition wins, the president will no longer be able to think about a third term. On the other hand, if the ruling power wins the vote, its supporters may push the president to a third term.Serin Thiam, Cheikh Anta Diop University

Political scientist Mame Ngor Ngom said: “For (the ruling party) it is about doing everything to maintain an absolute majority in the National Assembly, to be able to govern in peace until 2024 … and to guard the possibility of passing certain laws. prepare for all possibilities at the end of Sall’s second term.”

Although Mr. Sonko’s candidacy was rejected by the Constitutional Council, he organized opposition supporters throughout Senegal. An opposition victory “would be synonymous with rejecting Sall’s possible third candidacy and probable victory in the next presidential election.”

The ruling party, Salla Benno Bokk Jakaara, currently holds 75% of the seats in the legislature.

Serin Thiam, expert in political science at the University. Sheikha Anta Diopa, in Dakar, said that the opposition is putting forward the question of a possible third term instead of other questions.

“If the opposition wins, the president will no longer be able to think about a third term. On the other hand, if the ruling power wins the vote, its supporters may push the president to a third term,” he warned.

Mr. Sall did not speak of a third term, but promised to speak on Monday, the day after the election.

Dissatisfaction with Mr Sall has risen as potential opponents, including popular former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and ex-president Abdoulaye Wada’s son Karim Wade, have been targeted by the judiciary and barred from running for office. Many accuse Mr. Sall of using his power to eliminate opponents.

Anger has also risen amid economic concerns as fuel and food prices soared due to the war in Ukraine.

Senegal’s former prime minister and head of the ruling party, Aminata Touré, called on the country’s youth to vote.

“Young people should actively participate in the vote in gratitude to President Macky Sall for the outstanding work he has done for Senegal,” he said in Kedougou in the southeast.

Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diom toured polling stations across the country and said that every step had been taken to ensure unhindered voting despite floods in the past few weeks.