Although official preliminary results are expected by the end of the week, Senegal’s opposition leaders claimed to have beaten the governing coalition in Sunday’s poll.
“We won, and we won’t allow them to steal our victory,” said Khalifa Sall of the Manko Taxawu Senegal alliance, one of eight parties vying for parliamentary mandates.
“It’s a very close call,” Ahmed Dieme, director of consultancy Sahel Strategie Communication SASCOM, told DW, pointing to strong opposition inroads in major urban centers. This trend had already manifested itself in the municipal and regional elections in January.
Nevertheless, the ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar (Wolof for “united in hope”) coalition could have retained its majority if the electoral commission upheld claims that it had won 30 of the 46 seats.
Senegalese authorities are increasingly cracking down on protesters
The coalition appeals mainly to more conservative voters in rural areas. In contrast, the opposition has tailored its campaigns around issues having greater resonance in urban centers, where there is greater willingness to engage in political debates.
For example, “the debate around LGBTQ rights, as conceived by the opposition, has won over activists,” Dieme said, pointing to an increase in homophobic attacks and rhetoric in a country where being gay is still punishable by five. years in prison. .
Another attraction was the opposition’s clear stance against expected attempts by President Macky Sall to run for a third term, despite the constitution setting a limit of two.
President Sall’s controversial bid for a third term
Sall’s supporters say changes to the constitution in 2016 – which shortened presidential terms from seven to five years – reset the clock on his term limits, allowing him to seek another term in 2024.
However, critics say it is against the country’s constitution.
Observers believe Sall’s possible bid for a third presidential term could raise the specter of domestic unrest. The pre-election campaign was marred by violence that left at least three people dead. “I think the question of the third term is going to be the source of many crises,” said analyst Dieme.
Former presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko of the main opposition Yewwi Askan Wi (“free the people”) alliance, believes the party’s strong performance at the polls will hold President Sall to his pre-election promise to appoint a prime minister.
“Winning would allow us to form a government of cohabitation,” he told DW. Promising that such a government would not paralyze state affairs, he said he would force the president to listen to the other actors, “who will vote on the budget”.
But Senegalese journalist and analyst Alassane Samba Diop said there was no constitutional provision for a cohabitation government. “Senegal’s presidential system even allows the head of state to rule by decree,” he told DW.
“We reject any possibility of cohabitation,” said Aminata Touré, head of the presidential coalition list. She claimed the ruling alliance had won a majority “despite an advance from the opposition”.
Repression on the rise
Senegal’s reputation in the West as a stable democracy could seriously suffer. The electoral commission barred many opposition leaders from running. For example, Sonko says he was banned on bogus criminal charges.
Dieme fears President Sall will tighten his grip by stepping up the crackdown to quell any future dissent.
In March and June, police cracked down on anti-government protests with what human rights organizations called “excessive force”.
In the Senegal chapter of its World Report 2022, Human Rights Watch highlighted “restrictive civic space, rape, and other serious human rights violations,” which appear to be on the increase.
Security analyst Ahmed Dieme says disputed election is litmus test for Senegal’s democracy
Playing the game of the jihadists
Ahmed Dieme situates the president’s putative attempt to retain power within the larger context of a rapidly deteriorating democratic culture in West Africa. He said this dangerous democratic backsliding is happening as the threat of jihadist terrorism grows.
In 2020, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara won a third term despite a constitutional two-term limit. A year later, a military coup in Guinea overthrew President Alpha Condé, who was also about to seek a third term. Over the past two years, disgruntled senior military officials have ousted political leaders from power in Mali, Burkina Faso and Sudan.
The accumulated disrespect for the rule of law and the various constitutions plays into the hands of extremists, who “are determined to prove the limits of the democratic model” and like to present themselves as an alternative, Dieme said.
Mamadou Alpha Diallo and Eric Topona contributed to this article.