Senegal goes to the polls


Senegalese voters will choose their next president on Sunday in a delayed and high-stakes election that poses a test for the country’s democracy.

Outgoing President Macky Sall, whose second and final term expires on April 2, has promised to peacefully handover to his elected successor after the country’s top court blocked his attempts to delay the election – originally scheduled for February 24 – for 10 months.

A long list of candidates are running, but two former tax inspectors – one representing the government, the other the main opposition coalition – are considered frontrunners.

However, underlining deep-seated tensions, recent protests have turned deadly in the West African nation, with angry youths burning tires in the streets and calling for the vote to be held before Sall stepped down and not after, as he proposed.

Sall, who has led Senegal for 12 years, is leaving a checkered legacy and is accused of destabilizing the country through his attempts to prolong his grip on power by cracking down on the opposition and abruptly postponing polls just three weeks to the date.

However, Sall was unapologetic about delaying the vote.

“I have no apology to make because I did nothing wrong,” he told the BBC this week. “All the actions that have been taken have been within the framework of the law and the regulations.”


Senegal has been heralded as one of the most stable democracies in the coup-prone West African region.

Polls will open at 8:00 am (local time) Sunday and close at 6:00 pm, the electoral commission said, setting the stage for a fiercely contested presidential race that analysts say is open and uncertain.

In a tense political campaign season, analysts are braced for a potential outbreak of violence, says Ousmane Sene, who heads Dakar-based research organization, the West African Research Center (WARC).

“The risk of disruption is stronger if the Pastef candidate [of the main opposition coalition] loses as they are the ones who have been challenging the credibility of the Senegalese institutions.”

Who are the main candidates?
A diverse field of candidates are vying for the presidency and Sall’s successor will be elected from a pool of 19 candidates, each one promising reform to tackle some of the county’s most pressing problems.

Dakar-based political analyst Mamadou Thior, however, predicts a two-horse race between Sall’s handpicked candidate Amadou Ba of the ruling coalition, and Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a substitute for prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko who was barred from the polls after the Senegalese Supreme Court upheld his conviction over a defamation case in early January.

Sonko’s appeal to overturn a libel conviction that handed him a six-month suspended prison sentence was rejected by the top court, jeopardizing his hopes for the presidency.