Senegalese President Macky Sall’s decision to postpone the presidential election indefinitely has triggered a backlash from opposition parties and international actors.
Sall said he intervened to resolve a conflict between the legislature and the judiciary over the disqualification of some candidates, a day before the official campaign was supposed to begin.
“I will begin an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election,” Sall said, without giving a new date.
According to Senegal’s election law, the vote cannot take place earlier than late April, as there must be at least 80 days between the announcement of the date and the election.
Opposition candidates vowed to defy the postponement and start their campaigns on Sunday.
The RFM opposition party said it “systematically” rejects the postponement.
“We will see all Senegalese people this Sunday for a march,” said party spokesperson Cheikh Tidiane Youm.
Habib Sy, one of the 20 candidates, said opposition parties had agreed to launch their election campaigns together.
Another opposition figure, former mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall, who is not related to the president, urged pro-democracy forces to join forces.
“All of Senegal must stand up,” he told journalists.
He accused the president of staging “a constitutional coup” and having “dreams of eternity”.
The US, the EU and France, Senegal’s former colonial ruler, called for a swift rescheduling of the vote.
The EU urged a transparent, inclusive and credible election as soon as possible, with spokesperson Nabila Massrali saying the delay “opens a period of uncertainty”.
The French foreign ministry said: “We call on authorities to end the uncertainty about the electoral calendar so the vote can be held as soon as possible, under the rules of Senegalese democracy.”
The US State Department also asked Senegal to “swiftly” set a date for a “timely, free and fair election” in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
The regional bloc ECOWAS expressed “concern” and appealed to X for dialogue and a speedy process to set a new date.
Senegal is widely regarded as a model of democratic stability in West Africa, which has witnessed several coups in recent years in countries such as Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
This was the first time a Senegalese presidential election has been postponed and it increased the tension in the country.
A decree signed by Sall in November 2023 had fixed the election for February 25, with 20 candidates in the race but two prominent opposition figures barred.
Sall reiterated on Saturday that he would not run for a third term.
But one opposition leader, Thierno Alassane Sall, slammed what he called “high treason towards the Republic” in a post on X, and called on “patriots and republicans” to resist it.
El Malick Ndiaye, former spokesman of a dissolved opposition party once led by the now-imprisoned Ousmane Sonko, also condemned the decision.
“This is not a delay of the election, but a cancellation pure and simple,” he wrote on Facebook.
Prime Minister Amadou Ba from Sall’s party was his chosen successor, but he faced a possible defeat at the polls due to divisions within the party.
Bassirou Diomaye Faye, an anti-establishment candidate, has emerged as a possible winner, even though he is in jail.
He became the first imprisoned candidate to run for a Senegalese election after his candidacy was approved by the authorities.