Why Macky Sall’s strongest challengers won’t run for Senegal’s presidential elections

PUBLISHED: Mon, 21 Jan 2019 11:03:47 GMT

By Francois Conradie, Head of Research at NKC African Economics

On Monday, January 14, the Constitutional Council published the final list of candidates for the presidential election to be held on February 24.

Only five contenders are on it, all men: President Macky Sall, running on the platform of his coalition Benno Bokk Yaakar (BBY); Issa Sall of the Party of Unity and Coming Together (PUIR); Ousmane Sonko of the Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Brotherhood (Pastef); Madické Niang of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS); and Idrissa Seck of Rewmi.

Notably absent are Khalifa Sall of the Socialist Party (PS), a former mayor of Dakar who is serving a jail sentence for illicit enrichment, and Karim Wade, son of former President Abdoulaye Wade and the official candidate of the PDS.

Khalifa Sall (no relation to the president) is ineligible because of his conviction, and Mr Wade of the same reason, over a conviction for illicit enrichment in 2015. President Sall subsequently pardoned him and he is currently living in Qatar; he is liable to pay a huge fine should he return to Senegal.

Issa Sall and Mr Sonko are somewhat marginal figures, although the latter’s campaign is interesting for its use of social media and suspicions that he is close to Islamist currents in Senegal.

Mr Niang, a former minister, will pull votes from some PDS supporters, but many others will follow the party leadership’s injunction to boycott.

Thus the strongest challenger to the president is Mr Seck.

The two men have much in common: they were born two years apart (Mr Seck is the elder), both joined former President Wade’s PDS, and both served as his prime minister.

Mr Seck split from the PDS in 2006, two years after being sacked as prime minister. Both ran against the elder Mr Wade when he insisted in the face of strong popular opposition to run for a third term in 2012. In the first round of that election Macky Sall got 26.6% of the vote and Mr Seck 7.9%, so Mr Seck then backed his rival in the second round, when he won.

The exclusion of Khalifa Sall and Mr Wade had been expected since a change to the electoral law, which was clearly made in order to keep them specifically out of the race.

The former Dakar mayor at one point looked like a serious challenger to the president, and we think his trial and conviction had a political angle to them.

With the list of candidates being what it is, and the BBY coalition having a strong presence across the country, we see very little chance of President Sall losing the race.

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