Senegal election crisis shakes support for Macky Sall’s coalition

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Writer Moustapha Gueye voted for Senegalese President Macky Sall in the last two elections.
But disappointment in Sall’s second term and the president’s thwarted attempt to postpone the next vote have shaken Gueye’s allegiance to the ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar (BBY) coalition.

Reclining on a sofa at his home in Dakar, Gueye said he was saddened that Sall’s presidency had culminated in a bitter electoral tussle with the opposition and in unrest that has dented Senegal’s reputation as one of West Africa’s more stable nations.

“These are domestic issues that Senegal should have grown out of,” he said.

Sall’s shock decision to issue a decree delaying the election just weeks before it was due to take place in February revived widespread fears that he was trying to tweak the constitution to stay in power longer.

Sall denies this. A court later overruled his order, but too late to keep to the original electoral schedule.

Mechanic Ousmane Sene said he was tired of second-guessing the ruling party’s intentions.

“The reason I won’t vote for Benno (BBY) anymore is simply that I trusted them, but not anymore. That trust has been betrayed,” he said at his roadside repair shop in a Dakar suburb.

Authorities have still not confirmed a new date for the vote.

As the process grinds on, BBY and Sall will be gauging how the unresolved crisis is swaying other long-time supporters like Gueye and Sene and how it is affecting the chances of their handpicked candidate in the presidential race, Amadou Ba.

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Sall cited concerns over potential election disputes as the reason for the delay. But many believe BBY and Sall tried to postpone the vote because they were unsure about their own candidate and wanted time to think.

Sall has publicly stood by Ba. But equally public critics of the candidate include at least two cabinet ministers and senior BBY member Souleymane Jules Diop, who took to the radio in late 2023 to accuse Ba of being bland and uninspiring, local media reported.

“It’s very evident that the election delay would not have taken place if Macky Sall believed that Amadou Ba was clearly capable of winning the presidency,” Tochi Eni-Kalu, Africa analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said.

A 10-month delay could have bought enough time for a reshuffle of the candidate list, but on February 15 a top court ruled that such a postponement would be unlawful and ordered the election be scheduled as soon as possible.

With Ba still on the ticket for now, the crisis may turn out to have been a politically costly miscalculation by Sall and BBY if their electoral manoeuvring has put off many other voters like Gueye and Sene.

With no official public election polls, shifts in voter intention are hard to measure.

But of those who voted for Sall in the last election in 2019, only 60% are believed to be planning to vote for BBY’s candidate this time, said statistician Moubarak Lo who, as adviser to the Prime Minister, produces strategic analysis for the authorities.

Lo said he thought the estimated fall was less a response to the recent upheaval than a natural drop-off in support over the course of a presidential term.

He cautioned against drawing any conclusions about the election outcome at this stage. “Today, it’s total confusion,” he told Reuters on February 24.

All eyes are on whether Sall agrees with a June 2 election date proposed on Tuesday after talks that were boycotted by most of the opposition presidential candidates. Some of them have formed an informal alliance in response to the electoral turmoil.

This closer collaboration could influence the result of the election if it leads to them rallying around a single candidate in a second round in the event no contender secures more than 50% in the first round.

“It’s very clear the momentum is on the opposition side now and that could have a bearing on the election,” Eurasia Group analyst Eni-Kalu said.

“It’s become very obvious that it’s going to be very difficult for Amadou Ba to win outright in the first round,” he added.

“A lot depends on what happens in the next few weeks in terms of the opposition closing ranks and presenting a united front ahead of a run-off.”

The electoral turbulence has not deterred all BBY supporters. A pro-BBY rally in Dakar on February 24 attracted hundreds of people, comparable in size to a pro-opposition rally a week earlier.

The crowd chanted and waved Senegalese flags handed out by organisers. One man carried a homemade cardboard sign that said, “Macky, Senegal loves you.”

Penda, who gave only her first name, said her support for BBY was unchanged by recent events.

“We are here to show everyone, including the President, that those who love him continue to do so,” she said.

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