Senegal’s final presidential candidate list excludes opposition leader Sonko

By Diadie Ba

DAKAR (Reuters) -Senegal’s constitutional council on Saturday released a final list of 20 candidates for February’s presidential election that excluded opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and Karim Wade, the son of former president Abdoulaye Wade.

President Macky Sall will hand over power after ruling out a third term in July, ending lengthy speculation that helped fuel some of the deadliest violence in the normally stable West African nation’s modern history.

The council’s list of approved candidates includes Sall’s hand-picked successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall, and former prime minister Idrissa Seck.

It said opposition firebrand Sonko’s bid was ineligible due to a suspended sentence linked to a defamation case.

Sonko, 49, has been battling various court cases since 2021 and the authorities deny his accusations they are politically motivated, although public backlash to his treatment has fuelled unrest.

Fears that his exclusion could lead to more protests have waned since Sall’s announcement he will not use a 2016 constitutional reform to reset his mandate – a tactic used by other rulers in the region to extend power.

As a result, the Feb. 25 contest is the first since Senegal’s independence in which an incumbent president does not seek re-election after serving two terms.

Another notable exclusion from the final list of candidates is Karim Wade. He and Khalifa Sall saw their hopes of running in the last presidential race scuppered by legal convictions. Both have since received presidential pardons, but Wade is allegedly ineligible this time due to being a dual citizen when he submitted his candidacy.

With Sall and apparently Sonko out of the race, there is no clear frontrunner yet.

Attention is focused on Sall’s chosen successor Ba, as well as long-time Sall opponents Khalifa Sall and former premier Seck, who is running for the fourth time.

The final list also includes Bassirou Diomaye Faye, whom members of Sonko’s now-dissolved Pastef party in November nominated as a back-up candidate in the event of Sonko’s disqualification.

Like Sonko, Faye is in detention but he remains eligible to run as there has been no ruling yet on the case against him. He faces charges including defamation and contempt of court.

Before the list was released, Mamadou Sy Albert, a political analyst, told Reuters it seemed unlikely any of the candidates could secure over 50% of the vote, which is needed to avoid a second round.

“Whether it’s Amadou Ba or the opposition … it’s difficult to envisage a victory in the first round,” he said. “It’s very undecided.”

He flagged divisions within President Sall’s party and concerns that Ba has never contested a presidential election, while most of his main opponents have.

(Additional reporting by Portia Crowe; Writing by Portia Crowe and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Daniel Wallis)