Senegal begins voting in delayed presidential election


Voters prepare to cast their vote during the presidential election at the polling station at Ecole HLM Grand Medine in Dakar, Senegal, March 24, 2024. REUTERS/Luc Gnago


By Bate Felix and Portia Crowe

DAKAR (Reuters) -Voting opened in Senegal on Sunday in a delayed presidential election taking place against a turbulent political backdrop that has triggered violent anti-government protests and boosted support for the opposition.

At stake is the potential end of a regime that has pushed investor-friendly policies but failed to alleviate economic hardship in one of coup-prone West Africa’s more stable democracies just as it is poised to become the continent’s latest oil and gas producer.

There are 19 contenders vying to replace President Macky Sall, who is stepping down after a second term marred by unrest over the prosecution of firebrand opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and concerns that Sall wanted to extend his mandate past the constitutional limit.

The incumbent is not on the ballot for the first time in Senegal’s history. His ruling coalition has picked former prime minister Amadou Ba, 62, as its candidate.

“I believe that I’m the candidate that offers political stability, serenity and the capacity to move Senegal forward rapidly,” Ba told journalists as campaigning closed on Friday. “Senegal does not need a complete overhaul.”

About 7.3 million people are registered to vote. In the capital, Dakar, voters were lined up hours before polls opened on time at 0800 GMT.

“I came early because I want change,” said Sidy Lamine Badji, a 36-year-old driver who was first to vote at his polling station in the ocean-facing neighbourhood of Ngor.

“Life is difficult. We have not been making any progress since 2012.”

Fisherman Alioune Samba, 66, said he was voting for the change everyone wants.

“Food, water, school; everything is expensive with the low income we have in Senegal,” said the father of three.

The polls close at 1800 GMT and provisional results are expected by March 26.

Sonko, who was disqualified from the race because of a defamation conviction, is backing former tax inspector Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the 43-year-old co-creator of the now dissolved Pastef party. Some high-profile politicians and opposition candidates have also backed Faye’s candidacy.

Other contenders include ex-Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall (no relation to the outgoing president), entrepreneur Anta Babacar Ngom, who is the only woman running, and Idrissa Seck, who was second in the 2019 election.

Without opinion polls it is unclear whether any candidate will secure the more than 50% majority required to prevent a runoff.


Macky Sall, first elected in 2012, is leaving after a drop in popularity that worsened when he sought to postpone the vote to December. It had initially been scheduled for Feb. 25.

The move stoked unrest and concerns about authoritarian overreach in the nation of about 18 million, prompting Senegal’s Constitutional Council to rule that the vote should go ahead and Sall’s mandate could not be extended beyond April 2.

An amnesty law was passed this month to allow Sonko and Faye to be realesed from detention – Faye had been held for nearly a year on charges including defamation and contempt of court – and they have campaigned under the banner “Diomaye is Sonko”.

Sonko came third in the 2019 election and is particularly popular among urban youth frustrated by a lack of jobs and high living costs in a country where 60% of the population is younger than 25.

“The election will show whether their popularity on social media is real,” said political analyst Babacar Ndiaye.

Most of Sonko’s supporters are expected to vote for Faye, analysts say. Faye has promised to root out corruption, restore stability and prioritise economic sovereignty.

But some of his pledges, such as plans to renegotiate oil contracts just as Senegal is due to begin offshore oil and gas production, have raised concern over the country’s image as a destination for investors.


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