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Senegal election: Opposition leader Sonko excluded from vote

January 21, 2024

A final list of candidates set for the presidential contest omits opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. It appears to mark the end of Sonko's presidential ambitions for this year.

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko speaks during a news conference in Dakar, Senegal March 8, 2021.
Sonko has faced various prosecutions and criminal cases which he says are politically motivatedImage: Cooper Inveen/REUTERS

One of Senegal's leading opposition candidates was disqualified from running in elections in February, according to the final list of presidential candidates released by Senegal's Constitutional Council on Saturday.

The Constitutional Council, which has the final say on candidacies for the election, named 20 candidates for elections scheduled for February 25.

Notably absent were Ousmane Sonko, the opposition leader formerly representing the PASTEF party that's now been disbanded by authorities in Senegal, and Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

Incumbent agreed to step down, after deadly protests

The elections follow deadly protests last year that were fueled by concerns over President Macky Sall potentially seeking a third term in office.

Macky Sall was elected first in 2012 for a seven-year term and again in 2019 for a five-year term. In 2016, Sall amended the Constitution to set a two-term presidential limit.

His supporters maintained that his first term under the prior constitution shouldn't count. 

The uncertainty over whether he would seek a third term as well as charges against Sonko last year both played a role in the deadly protests, after which Sall made it clear he planned to step down.

Senegal: Leading opposition politician sentenced to prison

Sonko faces various criminal cases, says they're fabrications

Senegal's Constitutional Council had said earlier in the month that it had rejected Sonko's application, with Saturday's list of candidates seemingly showing it was sticking to its stance. 

The decision came after Senegal's top court upheld a defamation conviction against him. Supporters say these charges, and a series of others he faces, were politically motivated

Under Senegal’s electoral code, convicted criminals are ineligible to run for the presidency.

Sonko had finished third in the 2019 vote and it's conceivable that he would have proved a stronger challenger this year had he been permitted to run, particularly in the absence of the incumbent Sall.

Sall's successor, former PM Idrissa Seck and others approved to run

The council's list of approved candidates includes Sall's hand-picked successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall, and former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck of the main opposition party.

Senegal traditionally enjoyed a regional reputation for stability in the West African region marked by instability and coups. 

rm/msh (Reuters, AP)