Senegal civil society calls for mass action over delayed electionThu, 08 Feb 2024 14:02:48 GMT

Senegalese civil society groups on Thursday urged mass action after this month’s presidential poll was deferred to December, as President Macky Sall sought to quell public outcry and faced global pressure. The normally stable West African nation has plunged into its worst political upheaval in decades after lawmakers backed Sall’s decision to postpone the February 25 election to the middle of December. The contentious vote paved the way for Sall, whose second term was due to expire in early April, to remain in office until his successor is installed, probably in 2025.A newly formed collective –- comprising some 40 civil, religious, and professional groups –- outlined a series of upcoming actions including a protest and a strike.”We invite all citizens concerned by the preservation of democratic gains to mobilise en masse throughout the country and in the diaspora to prevent this seizure of power,” the civil society platform Aar Sunu Election (Let’s protect our election) said in a statement.Crammed into a room too small to hold all the journalists, representatives from the group spoke of a demonstration planned for Tuesday, a general strike on an unspecified date, and a walkout in schools on Friday.The platform also called on Muslims to attend Friday prayers wearing white and flying the national colours. – Sporadic mobilisation -But to what extent these calls to action will be heeded is as yet unclear.Senegal’s opposition, which has decried the election delay as a “constitutional coup”, appears to be trying to form a coherent strategy after the last-minute announcement. It has denounced the move as part of a plan by the presidential camp to avoid defeat, or even extend Sall’s term in office, despite his reiterating on Saturday that he would not stand again.But the widespread outcry unleashed on social media has only materialised into sporadic mobilisation on the streets.Attempted demonstrations have been repressed by security forces and dozens have been arrested.Rights advocates say that authorities have in recent years routinely banned opposition demonstrations, which are subject to authorisation. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested since 2021 during various episodes of unrest in Senegal.- ‘Worrying development’ -Thurday’s calls from civil society came as foreign ministers from West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc held emergency talks, with Senegal’s political turmoil on the crisis list alongside disputes with military rulers in three coup-hit countries.ECOWAS Commission president Omar Alieu Touray said it was “the time we have been most challenged,” calling the crisis in Senegal a “worrying development”.ECOWAS, the European Union and the United States have all called on Senegal to restore its electoral calendar.Washington said the vote to delay the election could not be “considered legitimate” after security forces removed opposition deputies who opposed the bill.Sall said on Saturday that he postponed the vote because of a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council over the rejection of candidates.Senegal’s international allies have called the move a blow to the country’s long-standing democratic principles and voiced concern that it risked triggering unrest in what is often seen as a bastion of stability in volatile West Africa.But authorities have shown no sign of reconsidering the delay.”We are listening to this message,” Foreign Minister Ismaila Madior Fall told France 24 television on Wednesday evening, “but we are now giving priority to internal political logic”.Sall told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening that he wanted to embark on “a pragmatic process of calming down and reconciliation”, a statement from his office said.It did not detail what measures he wanted the authorities — particularly the justice ministry — to implement, stating only “his desire to bring peace to the public arena”.