In Senegal, an unprecedented presidential campaign in more than one way

On the evening of Monday March 11, after breaking the Ramadan fast, the government candidate Amadou Ba held his official campaign opening meeting in Mbacké with surely the hope of seeing it as a happy omen

In Senegal, an unprecedented presidential campaign in more than one way

On the evening of Monday March 11, after breaking the Ramadan fast, the government candidate Amadou Ba held his official campaign opening meeting in Mbacké with surely the hope of seeing it as a happy omen. It was in this city 180 kilometers east of Dakar that President Macky Sall began his tour of the country before being re-elected in 2019. For the man who was his prime minister and hopes to succeed him, the start was timid, in the absence of the heavyweights of the Benno Bokk Yakaar majority coalition, after some mobilizations in the suburbs of the Senegalese capital the previous weekend.

“It’s a shortened campaign that takes place in the context of Christian and Muslim Lent. Consequently, large meetings will be reduced to the strict minimum and we are more in a proximity, door-to-door or caravan approach,” explains El Hadj Hamidou Kassé, communications coordinator for Amadou Ba.

For the nineteen candidates in the running, the start of the campaign began hastily after the month of uncertainty following the surprise announcement of the postponement of the presidential election by Macky Sall. While on March 6, the Constitutional Council had demanded of the Head of State that the election be held before April 2, the date of the end of the presidential term, the date of March 24 was finally chosen for the holding of the first round of voting. As a result, the candidates have less than two weeks to convince the Senegalese to vote for them, compared to the twenty-one days provided for by the electoral code. More unprecedented, one of the candidates and not the least, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the official replacement for Ousmane Sonko, is currently in prison. Like his boss.

This did not prevent hundreds of supporters from accompanying on Sunday, running and singing, the two huge trucks bearing the image of the candidate of the dissolved party Pastef (African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity). ) and its leader. “It’s not normal that all the candidates are out and only one remains behind bars,” says Mor Thiam, a scarf in the colors of Senegal tied around his neck.

“An attack on the principle of equality”

Bassirou Diomaye Faye's campaign is all the more complex as he was deprived of his regulatory airtime on public television RTS on the first day of the campaign. The candidate being in detention, his campaign director Moustapha Guirassy was responsible for replacing him on his three-minute campaign video. The recording was finally rejected by the National Audiovisual Regulatory Council (CNRA) on the grounds that only the presidential candidate can appear in it. Since then, his party has contented itself with broadcasting images of the campaign and rallies on the ground during daily airtime dedicated to it.

“It is an attack on the principle of equality because our candidate is deprived of presenting his program,” regrets Mr. Guirassy. Presumed beneficiaries of the general amnesty law passed on March 6, Ousmane Sonko and Bassirou Diomaye Faye are still awaiting their release.

Another particularity specific to the ex-Pastef: two other candidates still in the race for the presidency, Habib Sy and Cheikh Tidiane Dièye, defend his program. “We are in the overall framework of a coalition with Bassirou Diomaye Faye, we have a common project that we defend during joint electoral caravans,” explains Habib Sy, whose candidacy was validated thanks to the sponsorship of Pastef deputies. “It is an unprecedented strategy in the face of this unprecedented situation where his speaking time was unfairly withdrawn by the CNRA,” he continues, while maintaining the vagueness on the maintenance of his candidacy depending on the evolution of the campaign.

A violation of election law?

Mute throughout the period of political unrest which followed the postponement of the election, Idrissa Seck, who came second in the last presidential election, broke his silence when he entered the campaign in the Ouakam district of Dakar. Present at the signing of a charter for sustainable fishing, the former prime minister of Abdoulaye Wade justified himself thus: "Many were surprised by my silence in the face of events, but when we have faith in the State by law, we must let the executive decide and perhaps make a mistake. We must let the legislature legislate and perhaps make mistakes and ultimately submit to the decision of the constitutional judge who is not subject to appeal. »

A rule that the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), whose candidate Karim Wade was excluded from the presidential election, does not seem to want to fully hear. Former President Abdoulaye Wade's party filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on Monday to overturn the presidential decree that sets the March 24 poll date. The party denounces a violation of the electoral law because the electorate was not summoned eighty days before the vote and the electoral campaign for the first round will not last the regulatory twenty-one days.

“We are in a dispute around the presidential election, so it is the Constitutional Council which is competent and not the Supreme Court,” assures constitutional law professor Babacar Gueye who does not see this appeal prospering. “There cannot be an election on March 24, we are not going to accept it,” retorts a PDS executive. After the postponement of the presidential election, pushed by the PDS, and the legal twists and turns of recent weeks, no one in Senegal takes this threat lightly.