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Jan 14, 2019 | Senegal

Senegal court bars 2 opposition leaders from presidential vote

By Philippe SIUBERSKI
Senegalese President Macky Sall says he's hoping for a first-round win in next month's elections.  By Ludovic MARIN (POOL/AFP)
Senegalese President Macky Sall says he's hoping for a first-round win in next month's elections. By Ludovic MARIN (POOL/AFP)

Senegal's Constitutional Court on Monday authorised five candidates, including outgoing head of state Macky Sall, to contest presidential elections next month but blocked two prominent opposition figures.

The seven-member court barred, as expected, former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and ex-minister Karim Wade because of convictions for misuse of public funds.

The four other candidates in the February 24 vote will be a rising opposition MP, Ousmane Sonko; former prime minister Idrissa Seck; Madicke Niang, an associate of former president Abdoulaye Wade; and El Hadji Sall, of the Unity and Assembly Party (PUR).

The list published on Monday was provisional, and candidates have until January 20 to file any appeal.

President Sall, 57, who is not related to the two other men of the same name, was elected in 2012, taking the helm of one of West Africa's most prosperous and stable countries.

The former French colony is seen as a model of democracy in the region, having never experienced a coup d'etat and successfully staging peaceful transfers of power in 2000 and 2012.

Amnesty International's regional director, Alioune Tine, said the list issued by the Constitutional Court was "hardly a surprise" but was still "an enormous risk" for Senegal's credentials.

Fairness of trials questioned

However, international and regional organisations as well as human rights groups have questioned the fairness of some trials -- notably those of Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall.

Thousands of supporters of both politicians have staged protests in recent months calling for fair and transparent elections while challenging the impartiality of the justice and interior ministries.

Thousands of supporters of both politicians have staged protests in recent months calling for fair and transparent elections while questioning the impartiality of the justice and interior ministries.  By SEYLLOU (AFP) Thousands of supporters of both politicians have staged protests in recent months calling for fair and transparent elections while questioning the impartiality of the justice and interior ministries. By SEYLLOU (AFP)

Khalifa Sall, 63, one of Senegal's most popular politicians, was handed a five-year jail term last March for fraudulent use of public funds, a conviction that he said was politically motivated. He appealed it unsuccessfully.

A dissident member of the Socialist Party, Sall began his political activism at the age of 11.

He went on to hold various ministerial portfolios before being elected mayor of the capital in 2009 and reelected in 2014, a position that catapulted him to nationwide prominence.

Karim Wade, 50, was widely seen as being groomed to succeed his father, former president Wade.

Paris-educated, he served as minister of state for international cooperation from 2009 to 2012.

In 2015, shortly after his father's party, the centrist Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), designated him its candidate for the next presidential elections, Wade was given a six-year jail term for "illegal enrichment" -- amassing a fortune allegedly worth at least 178 million euros ($204 million).

Sall's big-ticket projects

President Sall pardoned Wade in 2016, although an enormous fine, the equivalent of more than 210 million euros, still stood.

The incumbent says he is confident of winning re-election in the first round set for February 24.

Adeline Van Houtte of the Economist Intelligence Unit said "potentially the biggest opposition threat could come from Sonko, who makes intensive and efficient use of social media" to promote a "nationalist economic agenda."

In the runup to the elections, Sall has stepped up high-profile visits, notably attending the inauguration of big-ticket projects.

They include the opening of a new stretch of motorway, the inauguration of a black heritage museum and, on Monday, ceremonies for a fast train line between Dakar and a new town, Diamnadio, being built around 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the capital.

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