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Senegal Votes For Legislators With Eyes On 2024 Presidential Race

Senegal Votes For Legislators With Eyes On 2024 Presidential Race

DAKAR, July 31 (Reuters) – Senegalese voted on Sunday in legislative elections pitting President Macky Sall’s ruling party against an opposition coalition energised by food price hikes and fears Sall could run for a controversial third term in 2024.

“We expect them to help us in this period of inflation, and for prices to come down,” said Omar Ba, one of the first to vote in Dakar’s Pikine neighbourhood.

The political backdrop in the country of 17.5 million, considered among West Africa’s most stable democracies, has become increasingly acrimonious, fuelled in part by Sall’s refusal to rule out breaching term limits.

Violent protests erupted last year after Sall’s main opponent, Ousmane Sonko, was arrested on rape charges. Sonko, who came third in the last presidential election in 2019, denies the allegations and says they are politically motivated.

Violent protests broke out again last month after the main opposition coalition’s primary list of parliamentary candidates, which included Sonko, was disqualified on technical grounds. As a result, the coalition’s backup list – consisting mostly of relative unknowns – will be on the ballot.

The coalition, which formed an alliance with another led by 96-year-old former President Abdoulaye Wade, is hoping to build on gains the opposition made during the January municipal election when they won control of Senegal’s major cities.

Turnout will be key if the opposition hopes to win enough seats to challenge Sall’s ambitions. Turnout in 2017 was at 53 percent of over 6 million voters.

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“Senegalese do not vote much in local and legislative elections, they tend to think that everything is decided in the presidential election,” Sonko said after voting, adding that the election was crucial.

Sall’s ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar coalition is trying to conserve its majority of more than three-quarters of the parliament’s 165 seats.

“I’m confident that like in the past, voters will decide in all transparency,” Sall said after voting.

Sixty-year-old Sall swept to power in 2012 removing Wade, and was elected again in 2019. He has campaigned on big-ticket construction projects such as a high-speed train line and a conference centre, as well as oil and gas production.

His opponents have seized on growing frustrations with economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic and rising fuel and food prices.

Sall’s refusal to publicly rule out a candidacy in 2024 has stoked fears he will follow in the footsteps of Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara and former Guinea President Alpha Conde. Both men stood for – and won – third terms in 2020 by arguing that new constitutions had reset their two-term limits.

Senegal adopted constitutional revisions, which among other things reduced presidential terms from seven to five years, in 2016. Sall has declined to comment on his intentions for 2024.