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Senegal’s 2024 Election: What to Know

WorldAfricaSenegal’s 2024 Election: What to Know



It should have been one of Africa’s more boring polls.

Senegal, with a ticking economy, is seen as a stable, safe country — no small feat in western Africa, where coups, crises and insurgencies abound. A president regarded as a steady hand is stepping down after two terms. A pool of candidates is taken mainly from the political old guard.

But then the president, Macky Sall, blew up any chance of a mundane election. He went on state television and canceled the vote, alleging corruption in the way candidates were approved by constitutional court.

In the uproar that followed, Mr. Sall backtracked and said that the vote would go ahead on March 24, nine days before his term ends. And then, in a dramatic move, he released the leading opposition candidate and the leader of the opposition party from prison.

The governing party’s candidate is Amadou Ba, a former prime minister. The man many see as the main challenger, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, was just released from jail. He’s backed by a popular but divisive politician, Ousmane Sonko. Then there are 17 other candidates, among them former mayors and prime ministers.

But what’s more important is who’s not running. That would be Mr. Sonko, who cannot take part because he was convicted of corrupting a minor, in a scandal involving a young massage parlor employee who accused him of rape. Mr. Sonko is Mr. Sall’s main opponent, a (relatively) young former tax inspector who has dominated politics in Senegal recently, mainly by criticizing elites and promising to help Senegal’s jobless youth.

Mr. Sonko has many critics. But many young Senegalese say he speaks truth to power, and they have repeatedly taken to the streets in his defense despite the risk of death at the hands of the police. Along with Mr. Faye, he was released from jail on Thursday night.

The other important person unable to run is Karim Wade, son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, who tried to cling to power in 2012 but was defeated by Mr. Sall. The younger Mr. Wade, who is French-Senegalese, is barred from running because he had not renounced his French citizenship when he submitted his candidacy. That’s what started the whole ruckus and led to Mr. Sall’s canceling the election in the first place.

The economy is a big one — most Senegalese say that the economic situation is bad and that managing it is the most important problem facing the government, according to Afrobarometer, an independent research network. The economy is growing, but more than 36 percent of people live in poverty.

Nearly a third of young people are out of work, and many have set their sights on getting to Europe or America to try to improve their prospects. Thousands take boats to the Canary Islands, perilous desert roads toward the Mediterranean or, most recently, circuitous routes by plane, bus or foot to Central America.

Results from the first round should emerge about a week after the election next Sunday, but many analysts expect a runoff. The last time that happened, the runoff took place about a month after the first round. Mr. Sall says he’ll leave office by April 2, and if there’s a runoff, the constitutional council says, the head of the national assembly, Amadou Mame Diop, should take over in the interim.

Almost certainly a former tax inspector. Mr. Ba, who resigned as prime minister to focus on what must be one of the shortest political campaigns, is a former tax inspector. So is Mr. Faye, who is not well known but stands a good chance of winning simply because he was anointed by Mr. Sonko.

Neither Mr. Ba nor Mr. Faye is particularly beloved in Senegal, and neither is expected to win in a landslide. But if the election goes to a runoff, many analysts say it’ll be a choice between the two.

Senegal’s Leading Opposition Politicians Freed From Jail Just Before Election

Senegal’s President Calls Off a National Election. His Critics Call It a Coup.

‘The State Killed My Brother’: Senegal in Uproar After Deadly Protests

Deadly Boat Accident in Senegal Raises Concern About Patrols to Stop Migrants

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