Senegal anti-establishment candidate to emerge from shadowsFri, 08 Mar 2024 02:23:52 GMT

Senegal’s amnesty law could see anti-establishment opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye released from prison to campaign for the presidency.That could mean he emerges from under the shadow of the popular but imprisoned opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.Sonko’s number two, Faye, 43, is a favourite for the presidential election, which has finally been set for March 24 after weeks of crisis triggered by the delay to the poll.Although detained since 2023 for contempt of court, the Constitutional Court approved his candidacy for this year’s race.Supporters of Sonko and Faye’s disbanded Pastef party believe the release of both men is imminent.”Ousmane is Diomaye, Diomaye is Ousmane!” they chanted in Senegal’s national language, Wolof. “I can confirm that Bassirou Diomaye Faye is a beneficiary of the amnesty law,” his lawyer Moussa Sarr told AFP. Faye should be released as soon as the law is implemented, he added. Senegalese MPs on Wednesday passed an amnesty law covering acts linked to deadly protests in the last three years.Sonko’s bitter stand-off with the state between 2021 and 2023 triggered riots that left dozens dead and led to hundreds of arrests.But while Faye’s release seems likely, there is more doubt over the release of Sonko, 49, detained since July 2023 on charges that include calling for insurrection.- Charm and insight -The natural leader of his party, Sonko has won a passionate following among young people, drawn to his pan-Africanist and socialist views and tough stance on former colonial power France. While he came third in the 2019 presidential election, he has been disqualified from this year’s race.Since he is out of the running, he has called for people to vote for Faye.”They are two sides of the same coin with two different styles,” said ex-Pastef activist Moustapha Sarr.”Ousmane’s charisma is unrivalled, but Diomaye’s (Faye) charm and insight will cause a sensation.”Faye’s spokesman, El Malick Ndiaye, agreed.”Diomaye (Faye) has broad enough shoulders to steer the project. He has worked on technical cases,” he said.”He has managed executives. He is the project’s pioneer.”But some analysts have warned that Faye’s release could also reveal the candidate’s weaknesses.”His opponents will be able to highlight his inadequacies relating to the job profile,” said Maurice Soudieck Dione, a political scientist at the University of Saint-Louis.For Sidy Diop, deputy editor of the daily Le Soleil, Faye has “neither the charisma nor the eloquence” of Sonko, and could suffer from his image as a “substitute candidate”. “A presidential election is an encounter between a man and the people,” Diop added.- Sonko ‘could make a difference’ -But for both Dione and Diop, Sonko’s release might change the game because he has the ability to rouse crowds.”If Ousmane Sonko gets involved in the campaign, it could make a difference,” said Dione.The opposition “Yewwi Askan Wi” coalition obtained around 32 percent of the vote in the 2022 legislative elections, Diop added.Sonko “mobilises a lot of people, but the idea that the former Pastef could win the election in the first round is a pipe dream without support”, he continued.In his view, the electoral race is wide open, even if Faye has a “very good chance” of making it to the second round.