Senegal holds elections as anger at delay boosts opposition

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Senegal will hold its delayed presidential election on Sunday amid an unusually tense political mood after President Macky Sall failed to postpone the vote and two key opponents were released from prison, handing momentum to the opposition.

The ruling coalition has picked Amadou Ba, 62, a former Prime Minister and Finance Minister as its candidate, who is likely to pursue Senegal’s investor-friendly policies as it readies to become an oil and gas producer by the end of 2024.

But Ba faces a crowded opposition field of 18 candidates, the most prominent being 43-year-old former tax inspector Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who has been propelled to the frontline by support from firebrand opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

Sonko, who is popular among urban youth frustrated with a lack of jobs and economic hardship, came third in the 2019 presidential race but was disqualified this time due to a defamation conviction.

Senegal to hold its presidential elections on 24 March 2024:

Both Sonko and Faye were released from jail on March 14 due to an amnesty proposed by Sall after months in detention, and have since drawn thousands to their rallies.

“The opposition has certainly gained momentum after the release of Faye and Sonko,” said Mucahid Durmaz, senior West Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

“Sonko’s charismatic and fiery presence is fuelling Faye’s campaign.”

Without any opinion polls, it is not clear whether any candidate will secure over 50% of the vote to prevent a runoff.

Faye, who was held on a defamation and contempt of court charge, promises to tackle inequality and corruption and has proposed monetary and institutional reforms, as well as the renegotiation of oil, gas and mining contracts.

Durmaz said a Faye victory would see the state wield more power over the economy and resources. Although the pace of reforms would likely be moderate, it could tarnish Senegal’s reputation as an attractive investment destination, he said.