DAKAR, Feb 5 (Reuters) – Riot police fired tear gas to break up crowds trying to gather outside Senegal’s parliament on Monday to protest against the president’s abrupt postponement of elections over the weekend.
As protesters shouted slogans, lawmakers inside the National Assembly building started debating a bill that would reschedule the Feb. 25 vote to Aug. 25 and extend President Macky Sall’s mandate until his successor is installed.
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Sall’s unprecedented announcement on Saturday pitched the West African nation into uncharted constitutional waters that threaten to further tarnish its reputation as a bastion of democratic stability in a region swept by coups.
“They are trying to extend the president’s term, which is illegal and not allowed,” protester Mohammad Mbengue said.
Ratings agency Moody’s warned on Monday that any lengthy delay to the election could hamper the country’s planned fiscal consolidation by making it harder to implement policies, including a promised phasing out of energy subsidies by 2025.
Senegal’s sovereign dollar bonds fell sharply. The bond maturing in 2033 tumbled more than 4 cents on the dollar to 82.4 cents – its biggest one-day fall since the 2020 COVID-19 market rout – Tradeweb data showed.
Around 100 people gathered outside parliament on Monday, after confrontations on Sunday, chanting “Macky Sall is a dictator”. Police fired tear gas, chased them into side streets and made arrests.
Authorities temporarily restricted mobile internet access from Sunday night, citing hate messages on social media and threats to public order. Several schools sent pupils home early.
The private Walf television channel said it was taken off air on Sunday and had its licence revoked.
“Senegal has been known as a country with a strong democracy but this is no longer the case,” one protester who only gave his first name, Dame, told Reuters.
“The only thing we want is a fair election.” He said he was worried Sall would cling on to power indefinitely.
Senegalese police crack down on protests over election delay in Dakar
A riot police member stands behind a barricade as they clash with Senegalese demonstrators during a protest against the postponement of the Feb. 25 presidential election, in Dakar, Senegal February 4, 2024. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights, opens new tab
The African Union on Monday joined a chorus of calls from regional bodies and Western governments for a new election date to be set as soon as possible.
Sall, who is not standing in the vote and has reached the constitutional limit of two terms in power, said he delayed the election due to a dispute over the candidate list and alleged corruption within the constitutional body that handled the list.
The opposition Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), whose candidate was barred from running because of dual nationality issues, supports a delay and proposed the postponement bill in parliament before Sall’s announcement.
But others angrily rejected it, with some saying Sall was trying to postpone his departure. The F24 platform, a large group of civil society organisations behind past demonstrations, and opposition presidential candidate Khalifa Sall, called it an “institutional coup”.
Some presidential contenders said they would push ahead with campaigns meant to kick off over the weekend. Two – ex-Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and another opposition politician, Aly Ngouille – vowed to challenge the postponement in court.
At least two candidates were detained when police in riot gear broke up protests in the capital Dakar on Sunday, firing tear gas and rounding up participants. Another presidential contender was injured and taken to hospital, his team said.
Sall’s announcement and the outcry it prompted have raised fears the country could see a repeat of violent protests that have broken out over the past three years over concerns Sall would try to run for a third term and the alleged political side-lining of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
“The coming months will be uncertain, and we do not think the police will be able to contain all popular anger,” Oxford Economics warned in a note.
The postponement bill needs to be backed by at least three fifths of the National Assembly in order to pass.
It could go through if the ruling party, which holds 49% of seats, and the opposition coalition that includes the PDS both vote for it, according to a Barclays analysis.
“Such a postponement could open the door for subsequent postponements and allow the president to do many things,” it said in a note.