Senegal opposition leader named election champion despite jail sentenceFri, 14 Jul 2023 16:56:29 GMT

Senegal’s main opposition party on Friday declared its firebrand leader Ousmane Sonko would be its candidate in upcoming presidential elections, brushing aside questions about his eligibility following a jail sentence.Sonko on Thursday “was unanimously voted in as the PASTEF-Patriots’ candidate for the February 25 2024 presidential elections,” the party said in a statement to AFP.Ballots were cast by delegates in Senegal’s 46 departments and among the diaspora, and the results were validated by the party’s senior regulatory authority, it said.Sonko has generated a passionate following among Senegal’s disaffected youth by mounting a fiery campaign against President Macky Sall, painting him as corrupt and a would-be dictator.His ascent has sparked deadly clashes between supporters and the security forces, creating the worst turbulence in years in a country otherwise famed for its stability.His appointment as party champion had long been expected. The authorities on Thursday slapped a ban on a rally in Dakar on Saturday where it was due to be confirmed in public.Sonko, who has been confined by security forces at his home in Dakar since May 28, would make a public comment later Friday, the party said.On June 1, Sonko was handed a two-year term following a trial on charges of sexual abuse of a beauty salon worker.The sentence sparked several days of violence in which 16 people died, according to an official toll.- Eligibility question -Legal analysts and Sonko’s lawyers say the conviction rules him out from being a candidate.On May 8, an appeal court gave Sonko a six-month suspended term for slander, although it is unclear whether this sentence, which can also be appealed to the Supreme Court, also makes him ineligible.PASTEF on Friday lashed at any doubt about Sonko’s eligibility, saying he “enjoys his political and civil rights in their entirety.””No-one can prevent Ousmane Sonko from being invested as (party) president or from taking part in the presidential elections,” it said.Sonko, in an interview with France 24 television on July 6, warned of “indescribable chaos” if he was barred from running.Tensions that flared after Sonko’s conviction last month were also fuelled by expectations Sall would declare his hand for the elections.Sall’s critics warned that if he did so, this would amount to a breach of the constitution.Sall is close to finishing his second presidential term, the constitutional maximum. But his supporters argue that a 2016 revision of the constitution reset the term clock.In the event, Sall wrong-footed both critics and supporters by announcing on July 3 that he would not run again.Meanwhile, Senegalese prosecutors on Friday said they had filed an international arrest warrant against one of Sonko’s lawyers, French national Juan Branco, for “crimes and offences” that it said were connected with last month’s unrest.On June 22, Branco said he had filed a criminal complaint against Sall in France for “crimes against humanity” and had requested a probe by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.His initiatives also named Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome and gendarmerie chief General Moussa Fall among more than 100 other accused.The move sparked Senegal’s ire, with Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall lashing it as “childish and puerile” and falling far short of the benchmark needed for legal scrutiny.