Protests muted despite outrage over Senegal bid to delay pollMon, 05 Feb 2024 17:22:00 GMT

Jeanne Diouf was speaking to her cousin in the heart of Senegal’s seaside capital Dakar when police fired tear gas on protesters incensed at moves to delay this month’s presidential vote. Diouf, 45, had to flee to the courtyard of the building to escape the acrid fumes.  Senegalese President Macky Sall on Saturday announced a delay to the February 25 vote, just hours before campaigning was officially set to begin.The opposition says the postponement is part of a plan by the presidential camp to avoid defeat or even to extend Sall’s term in office.Senegalese MPs were debating the proposal on Monday amid tight security in the capital. It will need the support of three-fifths of the 165 lawmakers and does not appear to be a done deal.”If the proposal passes today, Macky Sall will never stop,” Diouf said indignantly.”They have taken away our right to vote and are stopping us from protesting in the streets. It’s not normal.”She said she had taken part in a protest on Monday for the first time.The protest — the second in as many days — drew only a handful of people.”I am very disappointed, I expected crowds,” said Mamadou Thioune.”The political leaders should lead the way by going into the field. Everybody’s acting as though it’s not their business but it concerns us all,” he said.He added: “What is happening is very serious and unjustifiable.”It is the first time since independence from France in 1960 that a presidential vote has been postponed in Senegal, one of the few African countries never to have experienced a coup.”Formerly, Senegal was an exemplary country as far as democracy was concerned,” Thioune said, lamenting that recent coups in nearby Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger “can happen here”.Moussa Sene, 33, blamed the former colonial ruler.”Macky Sall could not have done this without France’s backing,” he said. “When he goes, we will rid Africa of France.”- ‘Sad for my country’ -The crisis has prompted fears of the kind of violent unrest that broke out in March 2021 and last June, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests.Tensions soared over speculation that Sall was considering running for a third term, until he eventually confirmed last July that he would not stand again. He repeated that pledge on Saturday.Opposition leaders have denounced the proposed delay as a “constitutional coup” and an assault on democracy.”Like all Senegalese, I do not agree with the decision to delay the elections and I am sad for my country,” said a 27-year-old security guard, who only identified himself with one name, Mamadou.Amath Ndiaye, a banker, added: “Macky Sall is trying to cling to power by using a wrong pretext.”He said he did not take part in the protest as he was not “suicidal”, adding that he would be arrested like the few demonstrators who had gathered outside the National Assembly despite the risks.According to civil society groups and opposition parties, nearly 1,000 opposition members have been arrested in Senegal since March 2021.