Pressreview CW 13/2024: Power shift
Press Review 22 March 2024 to 28 March 2024

Opposition candidate wins presidential election in Senegal

On Wednesday, the National Election Commission (Commission Électorale Nationale Autonome, CENA) announced the victory of opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye in the presidential elections in Senegal on Sunday. According to the preliminary results, Faye received 54.28% of the vote in the first round and was thus able to win by a surprisingly clear margin against Amadou Ba (36%), the candidate of the ruling coalition Benno Bokk Yakaar (BBY) and possible internal party successor to President Macky Sall. Third place went to Aliou Mamadou Dia (Parti de l’Unité et du Rassemblement, PUR) with 2.8%. The result must now be confirmed by the Constitutional Council in the coming days. This is the first time in Senegal’s history since independence in 1960 that an opposition candidate has won in the first round of voting. According to the constitution, an absolute majority of votes is required for this. At 61.3%, voter turnout was slightly lower than in the last presidential election in 2019 (66.27%).

Faye, who was released from prison just 10 days before the election, entered the race as a replacement candidate for the popular opposition leader and former chairman of the opposition party Patriotes africains du Sénégal pour le travail, l’éthique et la fraternité (PASTEF), Ousmane Sonko, which was dissolved in June 2023. Sonko, who was also released from prison on 14 March following President Sall’s pardon, was not allowed to stand as a candidate due to his conviction last year (press review CW 11/2023). Like Sonko, Faye also belonged to the PASTEF and was, among other things, Secretary General of the party. He received a great deal of support from young voters in particular. The 44-year-old, who has not previously held any national office, will become the youngest African president. Macky Sall’s term of office ends on 2 April. Diomaye Faye will also take office on the same day.

The opposition candidate’s victory was already apparent on Monday, one day after the election, and both his opponent Amadou Ba and the outgoing President Sall, who has ruled the West African country since 2012, congratulated Faye on his victory even before the final vote count. According to Sall, Faye’s election victory is a victory for Senegalese democracy. Other candidates also congratulated Faye on his success. A total of 18 candidates, including former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck, who came second behind Macky Sall in the 2019 elections, ran in the race for the presidency.

Although there were nationwide protests in February following the announcement that the elections originally planned for 25 February would be postponed, which also claimed lives (press review CW 6/2024), election day on Sunday was peaceful according to election observers. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), for example, drew a positive conclusion.

The political direction of the country could change fundamentally after the election results. The future President Faye had already announced during the election campaign that he wanted to break with previous policies. He announced his intention to rid the country of corruption and bad governance and also to rethink the close relationship with the former colonial power France, which he described as colonialist. In addition, he plans to reorganise raw material exports, from which French companies have often benefited to date, and announced during the election campaign that he would consider leaving the West African common currency, the CFA franc. After France recently had to contend with strong anti-French resentment in countries such as Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, which are increasingly turning away from France as an ally and towards new partners such as Russia, there could now also be a deterioration in relations with Senegal.

Togo passes constitutional amendment

The Togolese parliament passed a constitutional reform on Monday. With 89 votes in favour, one against and one abstention, the constitutional amendment, which had been tabled by MPs from the ruling party Union pour la République (UNIR), was adopted. This heralds the transition from a presidential system to a parliamentary system. From now on, the president is to be elected by the National Assembly without debate and no longer directly by the people. The presidential term of office will be extended by one year from the previous five to six years, but re-election will no longer be possible. In addition, the constitutional amendment provides for the introduction of the office of Chairman of the Council of Ministers, who, according to the text of the law, will be given full powers to manage government affairs. The office of Chairman of the Council of Ministers is to be held either by the leader of the party that holds the majority in parliament or by the governing coalition, also for a period of six years.

It is not yet clear when exactly the constitutional amendment, which was passed just four weeks before the upcoming parliamentary and regional elections on 20 April, will come into force. The new constitution has been heavily criticised by the opposition, which is currently only weakly represented in the National Assembly. They accuse President Faure Gnassingbé of staging a constitutional coup. Activists and human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch have also criticised the decision. Instead of being appointed by citizens, the president will in future be appointed by a parliament made up of Gnassingbé’s family members and confidants, criticised Togolese human rights activist Farida Bemba Nabourema on the online platform X. According to her, Gnassingbé, who has ruled the country since 2005, wants to further expand and consolidate his power in this way. Tchitchao Tchalim, MP and Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Law, Legislation and General Administration, however, emphasises that the office of Chairman of the Council of Ministers will remove a significant part of the President’s power. For example, he will represent the country abroad instead of the president and effectively run the day-to-day administration. On Wednesday, the police broke up a press conference called by the opposition after it had called for protests against the signing of the new constitution by the president.

The last constitutional reform, which limited the presidential term of office to a maximum of two, took place in 2019, but did not take into account President Faure Gnassingbé’s previous terms of office, which in theory allowed him to remain in office until 2030. With the new constitution, he can now stay in office a further year, provided he is re-elected in the next presidential elections in 2025. The law amending the constitution must now be signed by President Gnassingbé.

 

In other news

On Sunday, after three weeks, the 13th Africa Games came to an end in Ghana’s capital Accra. The Games saw 5,000 athletes from 52 countries compete against each other – more than ever before. As in 2019, Egypt won the most medals with 189, including 101 gold, 46 silver and 42 bronze medals, followed by Nigeria with 120 (47 gold, 33 silver and 40 bronze medals) and South Africa with a total of 106 medals (32 gold, 32 silver and 42 bronze medals). In addition to the established sports, the athletes competed in new “demonstration sports” such as Scrabble, Mixed Martial Arts and eSports. In eight of the 30 disciplines, the competitions also served as qualifying rounds for the Olympic Games to be held in Paris in July and August.

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