Senegal’s Constitutional Council has published the final list of 20 candidates for the highstakes 25 February presidential election. Supporters of jailed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and Karim Wade, the son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, are angry their candidates have been excluded from the list.
The list was published late on Saturday evening, and includes 20 candidates chosen from an original 90 who tried to take part in the sponsorship phase.
First on the list, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, chosen by President Macky Sall as his successor after Sall announced in July that he would not seek a third term.
Also named are the former prime ministers and rivals Idrissa Seck and Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, the former mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall, and Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye, presented as a substitute candidate for the famous opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
The published list of candidates also includes two women, gynaecologist Rose Wardini and entrepreneur Anta Babacar Ngom.
Crowded field, high hopes for democracy
It is the first time Senegal has organised a presidential election with so many candidates, according to constitutional lawyer Babacar Gueye.
Five candidates stood at the last contest in 2019.
It’s Senegal’s first election without the participation of the outgoing president, Macky Sall who was elected in 2012 for seven years and re-elected in 2019.
The high number of candidates is good news for democracy, according to Papa Fara Diallo, lecturer in political science at Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis.
He told RFI that previous elections showed that “when the incumbent president was in the race, he most often got reelected”. But this year, as Sall is not running, the stakes are higher and the voters more involved than ever.
Final blow for Karim Wade
Karim Wade, who served as a minister when his father Abdoulaye Wade was in power, was ruled “inadmissible” because of his dual French and Senegalese nationality, according to the Constitutional Council.
He denounced the move Sunday on social media, calling the decision “scandalous” and a “blatant attack on democracy”.
The 25 deputies in Wade’s party called for a parliamentary inquiry into the circumstances in which certain candidates had been excluded, in particular Wade.
According to the constitution, presidential candidates “must be exclusively of Senegalese nationality” and aged between 35 and 75 on election day.
Wade, who was born in France to a Senegalese father and a mother of French origin, and has been living in exile in Doha, had presented documents showing he has renounced his French nationality.
But the council rejected them, saying the decree confirming his loss of French nationality was “not retroactive” and his sworn declaration was “inexact” at the time of its filing.
Wade even accused France of trying to delay the process to ruin his candidacy.
“Our file was solid, we provided all the requested documents,” his representative, Maguette Sy, told RFI. “We do not understand why France waited until 16 January to issue a decree and publish it in the Official Journal. Our renunciation has been recorded since 23 October, certified by the consul near the French embassy in Doha. We say that it is a scheme against candidate Karim.”
His party, the PDS, and its K24 coalition haven’t chosen a replacement yet.
Disappointment for Sonko
The Constitutional Council rejected Ousmane Sonko’s candidacy due to his six-month suspended sentence for defamation, which was upheld by the Supreme Court on 4 January.
The 49-year-old opposition figure came third in the 2019 presidential election and has generated a passionate following among Senegal’s disaffected youth, striking a chord with his pan-Africanist rhetoric and tough stance on former colonial power France.
He has however been at the centre of a bitter stand-off with the state that has lasted more than two years, often sparking deadly unrest, especially in 2023.
His successor, Faye, 43, is a member of Sonko’s dissolved party, PASTEF, and is also detained but has not yet been tried.
He has been in prison since April 2023 for “contempt of court” and “defamation against a corporate body” over a Facebook post.
Choisir un dossier de diffamation (imaginaire), entre deux acteurs politiques, pour éliminer le Président @SonkoOfficiel s’inscrit dans votre ferme volonté de tourner le dos au vaillant PEUPLE Sénégalais et l’histoire vous jugera. L’histoire retiendra qu’en 2024, dans un pays… pic.twitter.com/3NQEhggmlG— El Malick NDIAYE (@elmaalignjaay) January 21, 2024
Observers are keeping an eye on Senegal, which has traditionally enjoyed a reputation for stability in the West African region marked by instability and coups.