Senegal Rushes to Fix Election Mess Before President Sall Exits

(Bloomberg) -- Senegal scheduled elections for this month, even though the nation’s top court and the government set different dates for the vote as the country rushes to elect a new president before incumbent Macky Sall’s term ends.

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The plan to hold the vote before Sall’s mandate expires on April 2 removes the risk of a power vacuum in the West African nation. A panel of Senegalese leaders had proposed the ballot be held on June 2 and that Sall remain in power until a successor is appointed, even after the Constitutional Council ruled that Sall’s term in office can’t be extended.

The exact date of the election remains unclear: while the government proposed a first round of voting take place on March 24, the Constitutional Council said in a separate statement on Wednesday that it should take place on March 31. Under the constitution, there must be 21 days of campaigning before an election takes place.

The West African nation has been in political limbo since Sall called off elections originally scheduled for Feb. 25. He sought a 10-month delay to allow for an inquiry into the process of selecting presidential candidates, after some opposition leaders, who were barred from taking part, questioned the vetting process. The move sparked violent protests and a crackdown by the government on the opposition and the media.

“This is the reason why we were fighting for these past weeks and days, because we knew that it was possible to actually hold these elections before April 2,” presidential candidate Anta Babacar said by phone from Dakar, the capital.

The sparring over the election date has scarred Senegal’s reputation as one of Africa’s most stable democracies and weighed on investor sentiment — its bonds have been among the worst emerging-market performers this year. The country is on the verge of becoming an oil and gas producer, and the International Monetary Fund expects its economy to expand more than 8% in 2024.

Read More: What’s Gone Wrong in Normally Stable Senegal?: QuickTake

S&P Global Ratings warned last month that prolonged political uncertainty in Senegal risked undermining the implementation of the country’s so-called Plan Senegal Emergent, which seeks to boost private investment and stabilize government finances. The company rates the country’s long-term debt at sub-investment grade B+, with a stable outlook.

Senegal’s dollar bonds due in 2033 climbed 0.6% to 84.54 cents on the dollar on Wednesday, while its 2037 securities gained 0.4% to 72.28 cents.

As the election date was announced on Wednesday night, Sall dissolved the government and appointed Sidiki Kaba prime minister. The president’s chosen successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, “was relieved from his duties to focus on the election campaign,” presidency spokesman Yoro Dia said by text message.

Senegalese lawmakers on Wednesday also adopted a proposed bill that grants amnesty to people who’ve committed offenses or crimes “relating to demonstrations or having political motives” committed since February 2021. It wasn’t immediately clear whether an amnesty would apply to the imprisoned opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and his chosen presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

The amnesty plan has been criticized by human-rights groups and victims because they say it denies justice to those detained or killed. At least 60 people have died in clashes between protesters and security forces according to Amnesty International, and hundreds more have been injured and detained.

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