- The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called Tuesday for Senegal to reverse its decision to delay its presidential election by 10 months.
- President Macky Sall’s move to delay the Feb. 25 vote raised immediate concern from human rights watchdogs and opposition politicians.
- Term-limited Sall’s administration has stoked authoritarian fears before, with the country last year having barred one of its main opposition figures, Ousmane Sonko, from seeking the presidency.
Authorities in Senegal should hold the presidential election this month as scheduled instead of delaying it by 10 months, West Africa’s regional bloc said Tuesday, as the United Nations human rights office expressed concern about the unprecedented decision in one of Africa’s most stable democracies.
President Macky Sall postponed the Feb. 25 vote, citing an electoral dispute between the parliament and the judiciary regarding some candidacies. Opposition leaders and candidates rejected the decision, calling it a “coup.”
Several opposition lawmakers were blocked from voting on Monday as parliament rescheduled the election for December, prompting outrage and condemnation. Sall’s time in office had been set to end on April 2.
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“We are disappointed in my country,” said Moustapha Kane, a teacher in the capital, Dakar, as the unrest of past days appeared to calm. “We used to be a great democracy. Now we are in danger of being the laughingstock of other countries.”
The vote has been surrounded by months of controversies, from deadly clashes that resulted in Sall announcing that he would not seek a third term to the disqualification of two opposition leaders by the highest election authority.
The West Africa bloc known as ECOWAS, which has struggled to contain a surge in coups in the region, encouraged the political class “to take steps urgently to restore the electoral calendar in accordance with the provisions of Senegal’s Constitution.”
Senegal’s presidential election has never been postponed. The constitution does empower the Constitutional Council, the highest election authority, to reschedule the vote in certain circumstances including “the death, permanent incapacity or withdrawal” of candidates.
United Nations human rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell expressed concern about the situation in Senegal and said any decision to postpone elections should be “based on broad-based consultations.”
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee, said the postponement “puts the country (Senegal) on a dangerous path towards dictatorship, and must not be allowed to stand.”
The crisis comes at a time when the West African bloc is struggling to retain its members. Three coup-hit nations pulled out last week after accusing it of “inhumane” sanctions in response to military takeovers.
The bloc must limit its interference in member nations’ politics or expand its supervisory role, said Oluwole Ojewale, a West and Central Africa analyst with the Africa-focused Institute for Security Studies.
“ECOWAS is inconsistent,” Ojewale said. “It cannot be alert to condemning military coups and threatening intervention while condoning irresponsible political behavior in other contexts.”
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