Senegal’s parliament has voted to delay the presidential election to December 15 in a chaotic vote that took place after opposition lawmakers were forcibly removed from the chamber as they debated President Macky Sall’s earlier decision to delay the crucial election.
Sall announced on Saturday that the election, which was scheduled for February 25, would be postponed, pitching the West African nation into uncharted constitutional waters, and triggering violent protests.
Parliamentary backing came late on Monday when 105 MPs in the 165-seat assembly voted in favour of the measure, which delays the election until December and keeps Sall in office until his successor is installed.
The bill initially set an election date on August 25, and the move to delay the poll even further is likely to risk more unrest. The president, who has served the maximum two terms, was originally due to leave office on April 2.
Sall has said previously he has no plans to extend his term, but protesters are sceptical.
As the lawmakers debated the bill on Monday, security forces fired tear gas at protesters who had gathered outside the parliament in Dakar, burning tyres and criticising Sall.
Demonstrator Malick Diouf, 37, said he had no preferred candidate and did not even have a voting card, but felt it was crucial to come out and protest.
“The main thing for me is to say ‘no’ to this political agenda, this coup de force to try to stay in power,” he told the AFP news agency.
Opposition leaders had condemned the proposed delay, announced just as campaigning was due to start, as a “constitutional coup” and an assault on democracy.
The mood in parliament was also tense with some deputies shoving and pushing one another, leading to a temporary recess.
Security forces later stormed the building and forcibly removed several opposition lawmakers who had occupied the central dais and were trying to block the voting process.
“What you are doing is not democratic, it’s not republican,” said Guy Marius Sagna, who was one of several rebel MPs wearing a sash in the colours of the Senegalese flag.
Democracy at risk
The postponement faced strong pushback elsewhere on Monday. At least three of the 20 presidential candidates submitted legal challenges to the delay, Constitutional Council documents showed. Two more candidates have pledged to challenge it via the courts.
Authorities temporarily restricted mobile internet access from Sunday night, citing hate messages on social media and threats to public order. Several schools sent pupils home early.
The private Walf television channel said it was taken off air on Sunday and had its licence revoked.
“Senegal has been known as a country with a strong democracy but this is no longer the case,” one protester who only gave his first name, Dame, told Reuters. “The only thing we want is a fair election.”
He said he was worried Sall would cling on to power indefinitely.
The chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, urged Senegal to resolve its “political dispute through consultation, understanding and dialogue”.
Human Rights Watch warned that Senegal risked losing its democratic credentials.
“Senegal has long been considered a beacon of democracy in the region. This is now at risk,” it said in a statement.
“Authorities need to act to prevent violence, rein in abusive security forces, and end their assault on opposition and media. They should respect freedom of speech, expression and assembly, and restore internet, putting Senegal back on its democratic course.”
The crisis has led to fears of the kind of violent unrest that broke out in March 2021 and June 2023, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests.
Sall said he delayed the election due to a dispute over the candidate list and alleged corruption within the constitutional body that handled the list.
The opposition Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), whose candidate was barred from running because of dual nationality issues, supports the delay and proposed the postponement bill in parliament before Sall’s announcement.
The bill passed due to backing by the ruling party and the opposition coalition, which includes PDS.
Other opposition and civil society groups have angrily rejected it, with some saying Sall is trying to postpone his departure. The F24 platform, a large group of organisations behind past demonstrations, and candidate Khalifa Sall, have called it an “institutional coup”.