Senegalese urged to turn out to oppose presidential election delayFri, 09 Feb 2024 11:47:38 GMT

Senegalese were urged on Friday to turn out and show their opposition to a last-minute delay of presidential polls, in a test of the balance of power between President Macky Sall and opponents.On Monday parliament backed Sall’s sudden decision to postpone the February 25 election by 10 months, sparking a fierce opposition backlash and international concern.The unprecedented move has called into question the West African country’s reputation for democratic stability in a region beset by military coups.Dozens of religious and citizens’ groups and professional organisations, which have teamed up in a newly formed collective, issued an appeal for people to attend Friday prayers dressed in white and the national colours.Dakar residents have also been urged via social media to demonstrate later on Friday on the large Place de la Nation square near the centre of the capital.The identity of those calling for the rally has not been revealed. However, several candidates for the postponed presidential ballot have announced they plan to join the demonstration.Teachers also faced a call to walk out from schools on Friday by education unions within the civil society platform Aar Sunu Election (Let’s Protect Our Election).At Blaise Diagne high school in Dakar, hundreds of pupils left their lessons mid-morning after teachers heeded the call.History and geography teacher Assane Sene said it was just the start of the battle.”If the government is stubborn, we will have to try different approaches,” he said.The platform has also asked Christians to dress in white for church on Sunday and is planning a demonstration on Tuesday.Friday’s planned day of action could indicate the weight of opposition to the electoral delay, which has pitched Senegal into uncharted waters.- Peaceful protest – The vote by MPs to delay the presidential election paved the way for Sall — whose second term expires in early April — to remain in office until his successor is installed, probably in 2025.A new date for the presidential election has been set for December 15.The decision has unleashed widespread anger on social media and the opposition has condemned it as a “constitutional coup”.But beyond the online reaction, the outcry has only materialised into sporadic reaction on the streets.Security forces have quashed attempts to demonstrate and arrested dozens of people.The authorities have not publicly said how they will respond to the planned demonstration in central Dakar on Friday.Protests usually require authorisation and there was no indication a request had been submitted.Rights advocates say the authorities have in recent years routinely banned opposition demonstrations.Since 2021, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested during various episodes of unrest in the country.- ‘Reconciliation’ – The Aar Sunu Election platform says its wants protests to be peaceful and it will remain independent.Sall said on Saturday he postponed the election because of a dispute between parliament and the constitutional council over would-be candidates who were not allowed to stand.Parliament approved the delay to the ballot at a heated session, but only after security forces stormed the chamber and removed some opposition deputies, preventing them from taking part. The vote was approved with the support of members of Sall’s parliamentary party and those of one would-be candidate banned from standing.Sall told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday he wanted the authorities to take “pragmatic” steps to calm tensions and foster “reconciliation”, his office said.It did not detail what measures Sall wanted the authorities to introduce.After months of speculation that he was considering running for a third term, Sall said in July he would not stand again for election and has since repeated that commitment several times.