Senegalese parliament votes on new presidential election date amid protests

By Melissa Chemam with RFI

Deputies in Senegal's parliament are meeting this Monday to vote on the postponement of presidential elections announced by President Macky Sall. The unexpected decision has plunged the country into crisis and led to violent protests.   

Protests were continuing on Monday as the members of Parliament met in the capital Dakar.

The presidential poll was originally set for 25 February, but President Macky Sall delayed the vote.

He claimed it was because of a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court over the rejection of candidates, especially the one of Karim Wade, son of the former president Abdoulaye Wade.

MPs are discussing posponing the polls this Monday, for up to six months. The text will need the support of three-fifths of the 165 deputies to pass.

Opposition leaders have used the term "constitutional coup" to describe the current situation, which they say is an assault on democracy.   

"I will begin an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election," Sall added, without giving a date.

Papa Fara Diallo, a lecturer in political science at Gaston-Berger University in Saint-Louis, told RFI that the opposition is getting organised to face the presidential power and "save the election". 

Protests and complaints 

Protesters took to the streets of the Senegalese capital Dakar on Sunday.

Hundreds of men and women answered the call of some opposition leaders, waving Senegalese flags or sporting the jersey of the national football team, converging in the early afternoon at a roundabout on one of the capital's main roads.

Senior opposition figures were arrested, including former prime minister Aminata Traoré and the candidate Anta Babacar Ngom.

Some protesters clashed with the police, which came on foot or in pick-up trucks and responded with tear gas.

They pursued the fleeing protesters through adjoining streets, while some demonstrators responded by throwing rocks, youths shouting "Macky Sall, dictator!" or burning tyres in the streets.

Most Senegalse also decried the decision by the government to put a private television broadcaster off the air for "incitement to violence" over its coverage of the protests.

This is another sign of the mounting political tension in the country, according to experts.

Some protesters on the streets Sunday said they feared the worst.

"Macky Sall wants to make us slaves," 44-year-old trader Ousmane Biteye told French news agency AFP. "He dares to come up with such fallacious reasons for postponing the election, and what's more just a few hours before the start of the campaign."

Regional and international concern

This situation is creating growing international concern, in Africa but in the Western world, which has regularly praised Senegal as a beam of democracy in West Africa.

The chairman of the African Union commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, urged Senegal to resolve its "political dispute through consultation, understanding and dialogue". He also called on the authorities to "organise the elections as quickly as possible, in transparency, in peace and national harmony".

The United States, European Union and former colonial ruler France have all appealed for the vote to be rescheduled as soon as possible.

It is the first time since 1963 that a presidential vote has been postponed in Senegal, one of the few African countries never to have experienced a coup.