A number of the top contenders to succeed Sall — most notably, popular opposition figure Ousmane Sonko — have been barred by the courts from running. In June, protests by supporters of Sonko, who faced multiple charges that critics said were politically motivated, were among the deadliest in Senegal’s history and left more than a dozen people dead.
Sall’s announcement of his decision not to seek reelection has been followed by a period of relative calm. But the decision to delay the vote — which was announced just hours before official campaigning was scheduled to start — could fuel a new round of protests in Senegal, where frustration with the political process was already running high.
Senegal’s elections have been a rare bright spot for democracy activists in the region, where a number of military leaders have seized power in coups in recent years, most recently in Niger and Gabon. Military juntas also wield power in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
In Ivory Coast and Togo, presidents are currently serving past the two terms originally mandated by their constitutions. (The president of Ivory Coast said there had been a “reset,” while Togo’s legislature changed its law).
In Senegal on Friday, one of the other opposition parties, representing a former president’s son, Karim Wade, who was barred from running because he is a dual citizen, requested that the election be delayed because of concerns about the court’s decision to bar Wade and others from running.
But a coalition representing ex-Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall pushed back, saying that a delay would represent an “institutional coup d’état” and create “unprecedented political instability.”
Sall promised on Saturday to hold a national dialogue to ensure that the elections are fair but offered no timeline.