On July 30, Senegalese will vote in a legislative election. In total, 47 lists of candidates have been confirmed nationally.
Candidates to become or remain members of Parliament (MPs) include one former president, two former prime ministers, the current prime minister and the imprisoned mayor of Dakar.
Despite some early signs that an opposition coalition would complicate matters for President Macky Sall’s coalition, various dynamics have kept opposition parties apart, and it looks unlikely that they will bother the president’s coalition.
The campaign, while far from over, has been characterised by a complicated and ultimately failed effort by the opposition to agree on a coalition.
Initially 10 opposition parties wanted to form a coalition in order to challenge Mr Sall’s government’s clannish management of power.
Parties that wanted to join included the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) of former President Abdoulaye Wade, the Rewmi party of former prime minister Idrissa Seck, and a dissident branch of the Socialist Party (PS) led by Khalifa Sall.
Khalifa Sall, the mayor of Dakar, is accused of embezzlement of public funds and has been imprisoned since March 7.
Even though some, particularly Mr Wade’s party, have been asking for Khalifa Sall’s liberation, the ten opposition parties did not want to accept a prisoner as their national list head and finally could not agree on a candidate.
Khalifa Sall especially gave the instruction that “everything must be done to preserve the unity of the coalition but it is out of the question to cede the national list head to the PDS!”
More than 100 days after Khalifa Sall’s arrest, his three lawyers continue to demand his liberation and the respect of his civil rights.
They have focused their arguments on what they call the absence of any proof that he had embezzled municipal funds.
One of the lawyers stated: “As long as a person is not condemned, he or she benefits of the same rights as all citizens. And until proven otherwise, Khalifa Sall is innocent. He has the right to vote, to be a candidate, and to be elected”.
Meanwhile, the only solution seems to be the payment of Mr Sall’s huge bail: CFAfr1.8bn. However, Mr Sall and his supporters reject this option, fearing that paying bail may be equated with confessing to the alleged crime.
The division of the opposition has now led to two coalitions.
On one side, a coalition called Manko Taxawu Senegal has registered its list excluding the PDS. It includes the members of the parties of Idrissa Seck and Malick Gackou, and Khalifa Sall is first on the list.
Mr Wade, who is 91 years old, heads the list of his coalition, called Wattu Senegal Winning Coalition, which is essentially made up of the PDS.
President Macky Sall’s Alliance for the Republic (APR), meanwhile, remains in the Bennoo Bokk Yakaar coalition together with the Socialist Party (PS) and the Alliance of Progressive Forces (APF). Prime Minister Mahammad Dione heads that list.
In spite of its will to constrain the president and his government, the opposition acted in a counterproductive way which might have a negative long-lasting outcome.
Most immediately, it looks very unlikely that the opposition will be able to impose ‘cohabitation’ by winning a majority in Parliament and picking the next prime minister.
Bennoo Bokk Yakaar must be considered the favourite going into the polls (although there is still a month left until the vote).
The fact that Khalifa Sall has been picked to head a national opposition list, despite being in jail, is impressive, but it is probable that he will remain behind bars until after the 2020 presidential election.