Presidential election: the Senegalese face an unprecedented social choice

The Senegalese like to point out that they have been voting for seventy-eight years

Presidential election: the Senegalese face an unprecedented social choice

The Senegalese like to point out that they have been voting for seventy-eight years. But never, in their long democratic history, has holding a presidential election been so trying. Controversial invalidations of candidacies, suspicions of corruption on the constitutional council, indefinite postponement of the vote three weeks before the scheduled date... Senegal, which wants to be a "model" in the region, has plunged into the unknown.

Unprecedented by its forceps delivery, the election of Sunday March 24 is also unprecedented by its form. For the first time since independence, an outgoing president, Macky Sall, will not be a candidate for succession. Furthermore, a record number of contenders – eighteen men and only one woman selected – will seek the presidential chair. But, above all, it marks a clear polarization of the political landscape around the two favorites, Amadou Ba, candidate of Benno Bokk Yakaar (BBY), the ruling coalition, and Bassirou Diomaye Faye, ex-Pastef (African Patriots of Senegal for Work). , ethics and fraternity), runner-up to the sovereignist opponent Ousmane Sonko. One is in favor of quiet continuity, the other, of a clean break.

A formation created ten years ago by a trio of tax agents, Pastef, which was dissolved by the government in July 2023, defends, for its second consecutive participation in a presidential election, its favorite themes: questioning the CFA franc, profound governance reform, economic patriotism. These are promising topics among a certain urban elite and a youth who consider themselves deprived of the dividends of economic growth – Senegal is expected to achieve more than 8% growth in 2024.

Integrity image

This electorate has already allowed the party to rise to third place in the 2019 presidential election and to win, in 2022, with its coalition, almost half of the seats in Parliament and in the town halls of large cities. “Pastef convinced thanks to a speech on probity,” said political scientist Moussa Diaw. When Ousmane Sonko says that in fifteen years in taxes he has never embezzled anything, despite the money flowing there, this resonates with young people. His electorate believes in his sincerity and rejects traditional actors who seem disconnected from reality. »

An image of integrity that Bassirou Diomaye Faye, 44, deliberately uses to attack his main opponent, Amadou Ba, 62. The very wealthy majority candidate, former minister of finance and until recently head of government, is regularly accused, without proof, of having illicitly enriched himself during his time at the tax department. It was also allegations of corruption of judges concerning him which justified the postponement of the vote.

On the economic front, at a time when the country is preparing to exploit hydrocarbon deposits off its coasts, the opposition has indicated that it is ready to renegotiate agreements and contracts linked to oil management , gas and mining. Promises intended to curb massive inflation and unemployment which fuel illegal emigration, but which worry certain economic circles.

In June 2023, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $1.8 billion (over €1.65 billion) financing package largely intended to alleviate the budget deficit. “In return, the State was committed to drastically reducing subsidies, because they weigh on Senegal’s high debt,” recalls a source within the institution. If the newly elected government reaffirms its desire to continue the plan, we will be able to disburse the $500 million planned in June and then in December. If he delays reviewing Senegal's commitment, they will be delayed. If he suspends it, he will have to find other ways to reduce the deficit. However, of the 7,000 billion CFA francs (10.7 billion euros) in the budget, 1,200 billion come from foreign partners. »

A warning received with suspicion from the ex-Pastef. “Senegal is a sovereign country which decides which sectors of its economy to subsidize or not. We have seen the negative effects of structural adjustment programs on our economies. This model of partnership should be banned, replies Abdourahmane Diouf, ally of the President Diomaye coalition. We have a range of alternative financing that we can resort to, such as the rationalization of massive and undue tax exemptions. We can also turn to other financial partners who better understand our local issues. »

Diplomatic differences

While the sub-region is divided between those in favor of continuity in relations with France and those in favor of a break for the benefit of Russia, the divergence between the two main candidates can also be seen in the diplomatic field. “Candidate of France” for his rivals due to his close links with French employers and elected officials, Amadou Ba advocates the status quo. Facing him, the ex-Pastef asks for a rebalancing.

“Senegal has built a formidable relationship with France, despite a painful beginning marked by slavery and colonization. This must not continue in a neocolonialism which keeps us dependent,” Bassirou Diomaye Faye told Le Monde. His coalition denies any hostility towards Paris, while claiming the right to open up to various partnerships, particularly on the security level, while the country faces the advance of terrorist groups on the Malian side. “So far, Russia is not one of them [security partners]. But we do not exclude any State from cooperation in general,” the candidate clarified.

A party claiming to be pan-Africanist, the ex-Pastef regularly points out the flaws in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He relaunched the charge by proposing an exit from the CFA franc. “A debate which could further weaken the sub-regional institution from which three countries in the Sahel have already withdrawn. However, Senegal is an influential member state,” points out Ndèye Astou Ndiaye, professor of political science at Cheikh-Anta-Diop University in Dakar. Deconstruct the existing or continue? Sixty-four years after independence, Senegal must answer, on Sunday, a crucial question for its future.