July 2023 | President Macky Sall announces he will not run for a third term
Senegal's 2024 presidential election continued to motivate politics in the country in July 2023. President Macky Sall announced that he will not seek a third term in office. He had publicly entertained the possibility of running again in 2024, claiming that the revision of the constitution in 2016 had effectively reset presidential term limits. Leaders including the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and the Secretary General of the United Nations described Sall’s decision not to seek a third term as a positive example in the region. Also in July, opposition politician Ousmane Sonko was arrested and faced further criminal charges. Sonko was charged with nine serious offences, including plotting an insurrection and criminal association with terrorists. Sonko has been a frontrunning candidate for the 2024 presidential election, but his past convictions may disqualify him.
June 2023 | Unrest and deaths after opposition politician convicted of ‘corrupting youth’
Prominent opposition politician Ousmane Sonko’s popularity has faced multiple criminal and civil trials in 2023. A criminal conviction could prevent his candidacy in the 2024 presidential elections. In the first proceeding, Sonko was convicted in May of defamation. In June, Sonko was acquitted of charges of rape and uttering death threats but convicted of ‘corrupting youth’ (meaning using his position of power to have sex with a person who is less than 21 years old) and sentenced to two years in prison. He has appealed the first conviction, but as the second trial was conducted in absentia, the verdict cannot be appealed. While Sonko was not immediately arrested, there was significant unrest when news of the conviction broke on 1 June. At least 15 people were killed in clashes between Sonko’s supporters and the police.
March 2023 | Unrest as opposition politician faces trials
In the lead up to the 2024 presidential election, Ousmane Sonko has emerged as a likely candidate to challenge President Macky Sall (who is widely expected to seek a third term). Sonko’s potential candidacy is impaired by two criminal trials: one involving charges of rape and death threats, and another involving an accusation of libel against a government minister. As the date of the first trial approached at the end of March, his supporters clashed with police in a number of locations across the country. Adding to the tensions, Sonko made accusations of an assassination attempt after he was exposed to a chemical irritant as he was physically forced into the court building. Sonko’s first trial ended on 30 March. He was found guilty of libel but given a two-month suspended sentence that will not prevent his candidacy. The rape trial is yet to begin but can be expected to generate unrest when it does.
August 2022 | Legislative election narrows governing majority
Senegal held a regularly scheduled legislative election on 31 July. The election was reported to be free and fair. Both the governing coalition and opposition parties had encountered some procedural problems related to the registration of candidates, but there were no significant technical or legal challenges during the polling. The election saw increased support for opposition parties, reducing the seats held by the coalition supporting President Macky Sall (Benno Bokk Yakaar) from 125 seats down to 82 in the 165-seat legislature. Sall’s coalition was able to maintain a bare majority through the support of Pape Diop, the sole member from Bokk Gis-Gis. One key outcome of this election is that Benno Bokk Yakaar no longer has enough seats to pass constitutional amendments without the support of opposition parties. Since a constitutional change would be required to allow President Sall to run for a third term, this change in the legislature has significant implications for the future of presidential term limits in Senegal.