Senegalese opposition chooses new candidate for presidential election

By Melissa Chemam with RFI
Senegal © Bassirou Diomaye Faye
© Bassirou Diomaye Faye

Following Senegal's Supreme Court ruling on opposition leader Ousmane Sonko's ineligibility last Friday, his Pastef party announced another candidate to defy President Macky Sall in the upcoming presidential election.

The opposition Pastef party on Sunday designated Bassirou Diomaye Faye, secretary-general of the party and right-hand man of Ousmane Sonko, as its candidate for the February poll.

On Friday, Sonko, was told by both the Supreme Court in Senegal, and the ECOWAS court in Nigeria, that he could not be registered again on the electoral lists.

Sonko, who has been caught up in a series of legal cases, was convicted in absentia on 1 June of morally corrupting a young person and sentenced to two years in prison. He denounced the trial as a plot to exclude him from the election.

In late July, he was arrested on other charges including fomenting insurrection, criminally associating with a terrorist body and endangering state security.

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"To sponsor Diomaye Faye is to sponsor Sonko," Pastef's spokespeople told supporters, just three weeks ahead of the sposorship deadline.

Like Sonko, Bassirou Diomaye Faye is a tax inspector, he is in his forties, and he is also behind bars.

Diomaye Faye has been in detention since April, after he was arrested for publishing a post criticising the behavior of magistrates in the defamation case between Sonko and the Minister of Tourism, Mame Mbaye Niang.

Prosecuted for contempt of court, defamation and acts likely to compromise public peace, his trial has not started.

“As long as he has not been convicted, he is presumed innocent and can perfectly well be a presidential candidate,” researcher in political science at Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis Maurice Soudieck Dione told RFI's correspondent in Dakar.

The party called its supporters to remain mobilised for the 111 coming days before the polls, scheduled on 25 February 2024.

Pastef currently has more than 20 seats in Senegal's National Assembly, while 13 are necessary to validate a candidacy for the presidential election.

Unfinished legal battle

Although Pastef insists that not all legal options have been attempted to clear Sonko's name, they are encouraging the opposition to work with Diomaye Faye in the meantime.

In mid-October a judge from Sonko's stronghold of Ziguinchor, the city in the region of Casamance where he has been mayor since January 2022, ordered that he be reinstated on electoral lists for the February vote.

But the government refused to reinstate him, following the the Supreme Court ruling on Friday, which came just hours after a West African regional court rejected his claim that the state had treated him unfairly.

Three weeks to campaign

Three weeks before the end of the sponsorship campaign, other candidates are also entering the race.

One of them is activist Fadel Barro, who officially launched his campaign this weekend.

A former coordinator of the citizen movement Y'en a marre ("We're fed up"), Barro is now at the head of a civil society coalition "Jammi Gox Yi" ("peace of the territories" in Wolof).

In January 2022, he ran for mayor of Kaolack before an unsuccessful attempt in the legislative elections in July 2022.