Protests erupt in Senegal over presidential election postponement

The police clashed with protesters in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

As parliament gets ready to discuss a bill that would push back the presidential election to August and prolong President Macky Sall’s term, Senegalese police on Sunday clamped down on demonstrations against the delay of the vote.

Sall said on Saturday that the Feb. 25 election would be postponed to a later date because of a controversy over the list of candidates and accusations of fraud within the constitutional body that managed the list.

Some civil society and opposition groups have condemned the decision as an “institutional coup”. According to the text of the bill, lawmakers will on Monday consider a proposal to hold the election on Aug. 25 and keep Sall in office until his successor takes over.

Senegal has never put off a presidential election and the unclear situation about what will happen next risks sparking more violence like the fatal protests of the past years that have damaged its image as one of West Africa’s most stable democracies.

In a sign of resistance, groups of protesters on Sunday blocked traffic at different spots along a main road in Dakar with improvised barricades of burning tyres.

In one place, around 200 people fled into side streets after police in riot gear fired tear gas and started arresting protesters. At least two opposition presidential candidates were caught up in the chaos.

In an online post, candidate Daouda Ndiaye said he was assaulted by police, and the campaign manager of Anta Babacar Ngom told Reuters she had been arrested by security forces and was being held until the evening.

Former prime minister Aminata Toure also said she had been arrested and taken to a police station in Dakar as soon as she left her vehicle.

“President Macky’s departure ticket is now stamped with the mark of this unprecedented democratic setback,” Toure posted on Saturday in reaction to the postponement.

The police did not reply to a request for comment right away. More protests are planned outside parliament on Monday.

After Sall’s televised announcement, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed worry about the conditions that led to the postponement and asked for a new election date to be set quickly.

The French foreign ministry on Sunday also urged the authorities “to clear up the uncertainty around the electoral schedule, so that the elections can take place as soon as possible and in accordance with the rules of Senegalese democracy”.

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