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Le Monde
Le Monde
17 Feb 2024

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Those who welcomed the return of the "rule of law" and the "Senegalese democratic model," following the Constitutional Council's decision on Thursday, February 15, were soon caught up in uncertainties and political and legal wrangling. For while the council reversed President Macky Sall's previous announcement, canceling the postponement of the presidential election, they have not ruled on everything. They left a major issue unresolved by not setting a new date for the vote. While Sall promised on Friday to "fully implement" the Constitutional Council's decision and to "carry out the consultations necessary," the issue is already tearing Senegal's political class apart.

The Constitutional Council has taken note of only one thing: "the impossibility of organizing the presidential election on the date initially planned" of February 25. It "invites the competent authorities to hold it as soon as possible." It's a real headache, with everyone putting their own interpretation on it. "As soon as possible" does not mean within a "short deadline" or "without delay," insisted a member of the presidential majority party.

"When the Constitutional Council said 'as soon as possible,' it suggested that there must be a handover of power before April 2, as it is out of the question for the President of the Republic to extend his term of office, as Article 103 of the Constitution states," explained Sidy Alpha Ndiaye, associate professor of law at Dakar's Cheikh-Anta-Diop University. In their decision, the constitutional judges were clear: "the term of office of the President of the Republic cannot be reduced or extended at the whim of political circumstances," "the term of office of the President of the Republic cannot be extended" and "the date of the election cannot be postponed beyond the term of office."

While Sall was suspected for many months of wanting to run for a third term – before publicly denying this in July – several opposition parties and civil society movements have in recent days forcefully demanded that the April 2 deadline be respected, maintaining the pressure with calls for marches on Friday and Saturday. A number of Western diplomats are also insisting on the need to meet this deadline, assuring that they will "exert pressure" to this end. If not, a transition will have to take place afterwards.

The head of state now finds himself locked into a tight institutional schedule. "The first round could be held on March 3 or 10, followed by a second round on March 24 at the latest," said Issa Sall, a former member of the French Commission Electorale Nationale Autonome (CENA, Autonomous National Electoral Commission). Thierno Bocoum, a law expert and former opposition MP, pointed out that Article 31 of the Constitution stipulates that "the ballot for the election of the President of the Republic shall take place no more than 45 days and no less than 30 days before the last day of the term of office of the President of the Republic in office," which would set the presidential election for March 3.

This would herald a rapid start to campaigning for the candidates for the top office, as the electoral code stipulates that they have three weeks to survey the territory. The presidential decree convening the electoral body would have to be published by Saturday evening. According to Sall, not only is this timetable legally tenable, it is also technically conceivable. "The Chief Electoral Officer is ready. The ballot papers have been produced, and some have already been sent to consulates outside the country," assured the expert, who has organized numerous elections in the country.

All that remains is the printing of the electoral rolls and the lists of voters, but Sall is convinced that this can be done in the remaining time: "Materially speaking, there are no worries, in my experience."

For El Hadj Omar Diop, a professor at the Faculty of Legal and Political Science at Cheikh-Anta-Diop University, a slight shift in the dates of the ballot should nevertheless be considered due to this exceptional situation. "The first round could take place in mid-March, then the second at the end of the month, and the handover of power would be shifted by 10 days at most. This would be acceptable, as we are in a special situation."

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Macky Sall also has the option of resigning on April 2, leaving power in the hands of the president of the National Assembly, who is constitutionally mandated to act as interim president and must organize an election within 90 days. "Everything is feasible, there just needs to be the political will," confirmed Diop.

"It's a regrettable obsession to focus on April 2," said Cheikh Seck, a majority MP. For his part, Seydou Gueye, Secretary General to the government, asserted that, materially speaking, "there is a good chance that we won't be able to hold the election before April 2." In his opinion, a new consensual date must be found "within the framework of a dialogue with all the players" to achieve "a regular and transparent process – with no or few disputes – to give a real basis to the next president."

Within Benno Bokk Yakaar, the ruling coalition, several voices are being raised to contest the decision of the Constitutional Council, pointing out that the latter is accused of having been manipulated by the ruling candidate during the validation of candidacies. "It's a decision of pride on the part of this court, which has been seriously called into question. What credit can we give these judges? We are exposing ourselves to a serious post-electoral crisis," continued Seck, who stressed that elections cannot be credibly and impartially arbitrated by this jurisdiction under these conditions. One of the judges, who was accused of corruption, decided not to participate on February 15.

"To set the 'most feasible deadline,' we first have to settle the points on which the Constitutional Council was challenged, then we have to take into account the social and meteorological calendar, and things such as Ramadan, the Magal de Touba [a major religious festival], the winter season [the rainy season, which lasts from June to October]..." said the MP. The new date would then be close to the one set by the MPs and rejected by the Constitutional Council: in other words, December 15.

This is an option that could also appeal to several opposition political players, such as Ousmane Sonko and Karim Wade, who had been eliminated from the presidential race by the Constitutional Council and whose return to the electoral process was at the heart of negotiations in recent days.

Translation of an original article published in French on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.