Senegal's parliament delays presidential election until December
DAKAR, Senegal — Senegal's parliament voted Monday to delay the West African nation's presidential election until Dec. 15 in a chaotic voting process that took place after opposition lawmakers were forcefully removed from the chambers as they debated President Macky Sall's earlier decision to delay the crucial election.
Security forces stormed the legislative building and forcefully removed several opposition lawmakers who were trying to block the voting process on the unprecedented delay of the presidential election initially scheduled for Feb. 25. The adopted bill extends Sall's tenure — which was due to end on April 2 — until a new election.
Authorities on Monday restricted mobile internet access amid growing protests by opposition supporters against the delay.
As the lawmakers debated the bill, security forces fired tear gas at protesters gathered outside the legislative building. Many of the protesters were arrested as they poured into the streets of the capital, Dakar, burning tires and criticizing the country's leader.
On Monday, two opposition parties filed a court petition challenging the election delay. It was not clear what would become of their request for Senegal's Constitutional Council to direct "the continuation of the electoral process."
Analysts say the crisis in Senegal is putting one of Africa's most stable democracies to the test at a time when the region is struggling with a recent surge in coups.
Sall — who in July said he would not seek a third term in office — had cited an electoral dispute between the parliament and the judiciary regarding the candidacies as reason for the postponement but opposition leaders and candidates rejected the move, calling it a "coup."
The African Union urged the government to organize the election "as soon as possible" and called on everyone involved "to resolve any political dispute through consultation, understanding and civilized dialogue."
"We will not accept a constitutional coup in this country. It is up to the people to come out and liberate themselves," said Guy Marius Sagna, an activist and opposition lawmaker, who was among the protesters.
The private Walf television network, whose signal was cut off as they broadcast the protests on Sunday, said their broadcasting license has been revoked.
The Ministry of Communication, Telecommunications and Digital Economy said mobile internet services were cut Monday "due to the dissemination of several hateful and subversive messages relayed on social networks in the context of threats and disturbances to public order."
"The government's abrupt shutdown of internet access via mobile data and Walf TV's broadcasting ... constitutes a blatant assault on the right to freedom of expression and press rights protected by Senegal's constitution," Amnesty International's regional office for West and Central Africa said in a statement.
Sall had said the dispute between the judiciary and parliament over the disqualification of some candidates and the reported dual-nationality of some qualified candidates has resulted in a "sufficiently serious and confusing situation."
Political tensions have run high in Senegal for at least a year. Authorities also cut internet access from cellphones in June 2023 when supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko clashed with security forces. Sonko is one of two opposition leaders whom election authorities disqualified from the final list of presidential candidates this month.
Sall's decision to postpone the election "reflects a sharp democratic decline" in Senegal, said Mucahid Durmaz, a senior analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
"The growing democracy deficit not only threatens to tarnish Senegal's reputation as a beacon of democratic stability in the region but also emboldens anti-democratic practices in West Africa," said Durmaz.
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