Senegal president pursues talks for new election dateTue, 27 Feb 2024 16:31:04 GMT

Crisis talks called by Senegal’s President Macky Sall entered their second day Tuesday aimed at setting a date for a presidential election he postponed, while civil society tried to mobilise support for a vote in the next few weeks.Senegal is grappling with its worst political crisis in decades after Sall’s last-minute deferral of the February 25 election.The Constitutional Council overturned the delay and Sall — whose second term expires on April 2 — on Monday launched two days of talks to set a new date.The Aar Sunu Election (Protect Our Election) collective of over 100 civil society groups called for city-wide shutdowns across the country and a general strike on Tuesday, demanding the poll take place before Sall leaves office.Two high schools near the centre of the capital Dakar cancelled classes, an AFP journalist saw.But overall, the call appeared to go largely unheeded in central districts of the city by late morning.Public transport continued as normal and the usual crowds filled the alleys of the bustling Colobane market. “We live from day to day, so we can’t afford to go a day without working, otherwise our families won’t eat,” said shopkeeper Saer Dieng, 37.Badara Dione, a 40-year-old motorbike taxi driver, said he wasn’t aware of the call to strike. “A general strike doesn’t suit us. The postponement of the election certainly hurts us, but personally I prefer to concentrate on my work,” he added.The civil society collective has called on Sall to take “all necessary steps to set the date and organise the 2024 presidential election before April 2”.- ‘National dialogue’ -Aar Sunu Election is part of a widespread political and civic movement, which galvanised after Sall’s February 3 decision to postpone the ballot.Four people died in ensuing protests.In power since 2012, Sall said he called off the vote over disputes about the disqualification of potential candidates and fears of a return to unrest as in 2021 and 2023.The Constitutional Council, the top constitutional body, ruled the delay unlawful and called for the vote to be organised “as soon as possible”.On Monday, Sall opened a two-day “national dialogue” aimed at reaching a “consensus”.Hundreds of political leaders, civil society representatives and religious figures gathered for the two-day meeting in the new town of Diamniadio, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Dakar.But 17 of the 19 candidates approved by the Constitutional Council to stand in the election have boycotted the discussions, as did Aar Sunu Election and other civil society groups.The opposition says the dialogue is a stalling mechanism.Two committees began deliberations on Tuesday and were due to present their conclusions to the president in the evening. Their discussions concern the date of the presidential election and the organisation of the period after April 2 until Sall’s successor is installed. “Once I receive the conclusions, I will decide on the date of the election,” Sall said late Monday, without specifying a deadline.- ‘Get it over with’ -The president has previously cast doubt on the feasibility of staging the vote before the end of his term.On Monday, he proposed that it could be held by the start of the rainy season in June or July. Some of those taking part in the national dialogue called on Sall to stay on until his successor is in place, including beyond April 2.The president did not rule out the possibility but indicated it was not his preferred choice.”If there’s a consensus, I’m prepared, in the best interests of the nation, to take it upon myself to stay on even if it’s not my choice,” he said. “It’s not what I want because I’m in a hurry to get it over with and leave,” he added.Several would-be presidential contenders have asked the Constitutional Council to formally hold Sall accountable for not fulfilling his duty to organise the poll.