Senegal’s opposition leader Sonko faces electoral disqualification

The judicial battleground surrounding Senegal’s main opposition figure, Ousmane Sonko, intensifies as the Supreme Court’s ruling jeopardizes his bid in the upcoming presidential elections.

The Supreme Court of Senegal upheld the verdict of a six-month suspended prison sentence for defamation and public insults against Senegal’s main opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko.

This sentence, imposed last May, stands as a barrier to his participation in the presidential elections slated for February 25th. The court, after an extensive hearing, rejected the appeal lodged by the opposition’s legal representatives, solidifying the 200 million CFA francs fine (approximately 305,000 euros) and confirming the verdict against Sonko.

The legal battle stemmed from Sonko’s accusations against Senegal’s Minister of Tourism, Mame Mbaye Niang, accusing him of embezzling 29 billion CFA francs (around 44 million euros) in November 2022. Niang retaliated with a defamation suit, leading to the recent judicial confirmation.

This ruling poses a significant threat to Sonko’s presidential candidacy, aligning with Senegal’s Electoral Code, which disqualifies individuals sentenced to a suspended prison term of six months or less from electoral participation for the subsequent five years.

Despite the setback, one of Sonko’s legal representatives, Ciré Clédor Ly, conveyed to Senegalese media that they would exhaust all legal options, cautioning against concluding Sonko’s definitive disqualification. El Malick Ndiaye, spokesperson for Sonko’s party, the Senegalese Patriots for Work, Ethics, and Fraternity (Pastef), echoed this sentiment on Facebook, asserting Sonko’s continued eligibility.

Sonko, 49, has been embroiled in legal battles since his arrest last July on various charges, including incitement to insurrection, attacks against state security, and alleged involvement with a terrorist organization.

His detention triggered violent protests, leading the Interior Ministry to remove him from the electoral roll. However, subsequent legal back-and-forths saw fluctuating decisions regarding his eligibility, with the Supreme Court upholding his removal, then a Ziguinchor court overturning it (Sonko serving as mayor of Ziguinchor), and finally, the High Court of Dakar reinstating him on December 14th.

Yet, the State of Senegal’s lawyers indicated a renewed appeal to the Supreme Court. Despite these legal maneuvers, Sonko’s representative did not receive the necessary documents from the General Directorate of Elections (DGE) to formalize his candidacy, hampering his path forward.

The DGE is currently reviewing documentation from 93 candidates, aiming to publish the final list of candidates on January 20th. Anticipating Sonko’s exclusion, his party announced in November the selection of another candidate, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Pastef’s secretary-general and second-in-command.

Contrarily, President Macky Sall, in office since 2012, affirmed last July that he would not seek a controversial third term. Last September, Sall nominated Amadou Ba, the current prime minister, as the ruling coalition’s (Benno Bokk Yaakaar) candidate.

Sonko, known for his anti-establishment stance and vocal criticism of corruption and French neocolonialism, decries the alleged manipulation of justice by Sall to bar him from contesting the elections.

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