Senegal – Sall vs. Sall

Senegal is preparing for legislative elections on July 2, 2017. In the country’s semi-presidential system, the prime minister and cabinet are responsible to both the president and the legislature. A legislative majority in opposition to the president can force out the prime minister and cabinet through a vote of no confidence. This could theoretically result in a situation of cohabitation – where a president and prime minister from opposing parties/coalitions have to share executive power.

Senegal has never experienced cohabitation and President Macky Sall surely hopes he will not be the first president to explore this uncharted territory. A new opposition coalition with the participation of Dakar’s mayor Khalifa Sall (no family relation) hopes to the contrary to wrestle away the majority from the presidential coalition in the July elections.

President Sall’s coalition, Benno Bokk Yaakaar (BBY), controls a comfortable majority of 119 seats in the sitting 150-seat unicameral legislature, with the remainder distributed across 12 parties or coalitions. With two years remaining of his first, seven-year term, will Macky Sall be able to maintain control of the National Assembly in the upcoming polls?

The government’s performance record appears at face value to be good. The economy is doing well, with above 6 percent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the past two years, a trend the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects to continue this year. Senegal has become one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, the fiscal deficit is falling, and after Tunisia, Senegal is only the second country in the world to adopt a new national digital currency – the eCFA. According to Transparency International, the fight against corruption has progressed, with the adoption of a number of anti-corruption reforms and the creation of a Ministry for the Promotion of Good Governance Responsible for the Relations with Institutions.

So why is the well-known youth group Y’en a marre in the streets, protesting against Macky Sall in an unlikely alliance with the Parti démocratique sénégalais (PDS), the party of former President Abdoulaye Wade? Y’en a marre was instrumental in mobilizing the youth vote in particular, in opposition to Wade’s attempt at securing a third term in 2012 when he ran against Macky Sall in the presidential run-off. What has happened to turn former friends into foes, and former foes into friends?

Y’en a marre cannot forgive Macky Sall for going back on his word (wax waxeet in Wolof – a bad habit of Senegalese political leaders according to the creators of the wax-waxeet.com monitoring website): Sall had promised during his campaign that he would reduce the length of presidential terms from seven to five years with immediate effect — to include his first term. However, instead of submitting a bill to revise the constitution accordingly for approval by the National Assembly — where it would likely easily have received the required 3/5 of votes to pass without requiring a referendum — Sall waited four years to consult with the constitutional court, in 2016. The court found that changing the duration of an ongoing presidential term would be against the spirit of the constitution and constitutional practice. Sall therefore declared in February 2016 that he would comply with the finding of the constitutional court and serve the full length of his first mandate. Constitutional revisions adopted a month later do include a provision for the reduced term-length, but it is a change that will only be applicable to his next term.

In addition to breaking a promise, Y’en a marre and opposition parties also accuse President Sall of having instigated the arrest of Khalifa Sall in March of this year on trumped up fraud charges. Khalifa Sall is a likely presidential candidate and strong challenger to Macky Sall in 2019. An attempt to dislodge him from his prominent position as mayor in Dakar by President Sall’s party (though the parties of the two Salls both belong to the ruling coalition) failed in 2014 [see earlier blogpost here].

Since his arrest, Khalifa Sall has joined forces with the PDS, the Rewmi party of former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck and others, to form a new coalition, Manko Taxawu Senegaal (Accord to Watch over Senegal), which will field joint lists for the legislative polls.

The legislative election campaign is getting off the ground. The election outcome will be an early indication of the relative popularity of the two Salls, as the 2019 presidential poll approaches.

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