Tax inspectors to poultry boss: Senegal’s presidential candidates

After weeks of turmoil and deadly protests, outgoing President Macky Sall sets elections for March 24.

Voters in Senegal will cast their ballots on March 24 after weeks of turmoil due to President Macky Sall’s attempt to postpone the presidential election [John Wessels/AFP]By Virginia PietromarchiPublished On 13 Mar 202413 Mar 2024

Senegalese voters have a crowded field of 19 candidates to pick from when they vote this month to elect a new leader to replace President Macky Sall in a tight election whose delay sparked concerns for the future of democracy in the West African country.

The vote on March 24 will take place after Sall’s attempt to postpone the election, originally planned for February, was overturned by Senegal’s top election authority after weeks of violent protests.

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The ruling by the Constitutional Council has been welcomed by many in the country – but observers have warned it may not be the last twist in the saga. Already, several politicians have petitioned the courts to postpone the election anew, claiming the application process for the candidates was flawed.

“Every week you have a new kind of scandal – this is Senegal,” said Ndongo Samba Sylla, head of research and policy for IDEAs, a network of political and economic analysts. “There could be new developments” in the days ahead, he cautioned.

Meanwhile, candidates are left with less than two weeks to win over voters during the month of Ramadan, a period usually dedicated to spiritual reflection and worship rather than politics.

Here’s a look at the main candidates — and a common thread that binds some of them:

Bassirou Diomaye Faye

The 49-year-old tax inspector is the candidate of an opposition coalition that includes members of the dissolved PASTEF party of Ousmane Sonko, a firebrand politician and fierce critic of Sall.

Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election, was widely seen as the most popular candidate for this year’s vote. But the opposition leader was detained in July after being convicted of “morally corrupting” the youth and was later barred from running over libel charges. Faye has been nominated by Sonko as his successor.

Sonko, like Faye, was a tax inspector.

Opposition supporters sing and dance during a meeting two days before the trial of one of Senegal’s opposition leaders, Ousmane Sonko, in Dakar [File: John Wessels/AFP]

Faye will seek to capitalise on Sonko’s popularity, especially among Senegal’s unemployed youth. Three out of 10 Senegalese aged 18 to 35 are unemployed. Youth joblessness is an issue further exacerbated by the speed at which the population grows – it doubles every 25 years, according to Afro Barometer data.

But Faye has been in preventive detention since April, even while his face adorns T-shirts of opposition supporters, who have chanted his name at campaign rallies. He is expected to be released soon as part of an amnesty law.

“Freed or not freed, the majority of Senegalese has already made their choice. Who wants to vote for Faye will vote for him,” said Thiaba Camara, president of the civil society group Demain Senegal.

Faye has called for the establishment of a new national currency; the renegotiation of contracts between the government and corporations in sectors ranging from energy and mining to fishing; and a reduction of presidential powers, including the reintroduction of the vice presidency. He has also pledged to equally distribute profits out of a gasfield that is expected to start production this year.

Amadou Ba

A former prime minister, Ba was also once a tax inspector. Ba is the presidential candidate of Sall’s Alliance for the Republic party. He ran the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning from 2013 to 2019 and was the country’s top diplomat in 2019 and 2020.

A Ba victory would mean policy continuity with the previous government, something that would likely assure foreign investors and guarantee a cohesive fiscal response at a time when Senegal needs the support of the International Monetary Fund, which approved a $1.8bn loan in June.

But because the 62-year-old was part of Sall’s government, he faces public dissatisfaction over the rollback of civil liberties under the outgoing president. Dozens of people were killed and more than 1,000 jailed in the political turmoil of the past three years.

“Ba is perceived as the candidate who embodies the old system, one which never disconnected from structures established since independence,” said Hawa Ba, the head of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.

Amadou Ba is the presidential candidate for Sall’s party [File: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Reuters]

Khalifa Sall

Another presidential hopeful is Dakar’s two-time mayor (no relation to the president).

The widely popular politician was jailed for five years in 2018 on charges of fraud, which his supporters said were politically motivated. The conviction barred him from running in the following year’s presidential election, in which he was seen as a strong competitor to Macky Sall.

Following a presidential pardon, the former lawmaker, who trained as a teacher, was freed in 2019.

Sustainable development has been central to Khalifa Sall’s electoral campaign. He has said he wants to focus on responsible water management and equitable land distribution. More than 70 percent of Senegal’s population lives off agriculture and the livestock sector.

Idrissa Seck

Until April, Seck was the head of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council.

The 63-year-old won 21 percent of the vote in the 2019 presidential election, finishing second in the race. After the vote, his Rewmi party joined President Sall’s ruling coalition.

Reports suggested Seck and Sall fell out after the former declared his opposition to anybody seeking a third term, alluding to the latter’s suspected ambitions. Seck also argued that Sonko should have been allowed to run in the 2024 election.

Idrissa Seck finished second in the 2019 presidential election [File: Martin Dixon/EPA]

Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne

Prime minister from 2014 to 2019, Dionne served as the chief of the Central Bank of West African States and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. The agency’s mandate is to support economic growth in developing countries and economies in transition.

He is a computer engineer by training. Dionne has pledged to be a “president of reconciliation” if elected and has pushed for “economic sovereignty” for Senegal.

Anta Babacar Ngom

Ngom is the only female candidate and would be the first women to serve as Senegal’s president if elected. A political newcomer, the 40-year-old runs Senegal’s largest poultry company, which was founded by her father.

She has said she wants to boost the private sector, promote free healthcare and reform the education system, including adding local languages on top of French.

Source: Al Jazeera