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Senegal Must Hold Election After All, Top Court Rules

The president of the West African country had postponed a coming election, but the country’s constitutional court said the vote must take place as soon as possible.

Demonstrators protesting against President Macky Sall’s decision to postpone a national election, in Dakar, Senegal, last week. Credit: Stefan Kleinowitz/Associated Press

Senegal’s constitutional court ruled on Thursday that a national election that had been postponed by the president must take place as soon as possible, throwing the West African country’s political future into fresh doubt.

The court, the country’s highest, said that while it is now impossible to hold an election in 10 days’ time — the vote had initially been planned for Feb. 25 — the balloting should be held by the earliest feasible date.

Less than two weeks ago, President Macky Sall issued a decree indefinitely postponing the balloting, pending an investigation into corruption allegations in the constitutional court. Just a couple days later, the country’s Parliament decided to delay the vote by nearly 10 months, setting Dec. 15 as the date.

But the court’s ruling on Thursday declared the law passed by Parliament to be against the Constitution and ordered that Mr. Sall’s decree delaying the election be canceled.

“Neither the president of the republic nor Parliament can postpone a presidential election,” the ruling said, adding that only the court had that power. The precise date could be adjusted to make up for the campaigning days lost, it said.

As the highest judicial authority in the land, the constitutional court has the final decision in the matter, and to abide by the ruling, Mr. Sall must now allow political campaigns to begin, organize the coming election and step down by April 2, when his term comes to an end.

In a social media post, the Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr called it “a historic decision.”

As of Thursday night, it was not clear what the president’s next move would be in response to the ruling. Should he disregard the court’s decision, Senegal would enter a period of “radical uncertainty,” said Ndongo Samba Sylla, a Senegalese development economist.

But Mr. Sall has already raised questions about the integrity of the constitutional court itself, saying that allegations of corruption against some of its judges needed to be investigated. This was the principal reason given for delaying elections.

Long considered a bastion of stability and democracy among coup-prone neighbors in the strip of countries south of the Sahara known as the Sahel, Senegal has been shaken by the events of the past few weeks. Ahead of the vote in Parliament, opposition lawmakers were thrown out of the chamber by the police, after which the bill passed with a vote of 105 to 1.

For years, Mr. Sall refused to say whether or not he would seek a third term — the Constitution limits presidents to two — but last July, he pledged to step down when his second term ended, and his prime minister, Amadou Ba, was named as the ruling party candidate.

But Mr. Ba was considered unlikely to win the election in the first round, experts predicted, even with a major opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, in jail and out of the running.

After Mr. Sall’s decree, analysts had asked whether the president was trying to buy time to find a more popular successor, or whether he aimed to retain power himself beyond December.

© 2024 The New York Times Company


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