President Macky Sall’s coalition was the big winner of the July 30 legislative elections in Senegal, taking 125 of 165 seats in the country’s unicameral national assembly. This significant win was the result of a divided opposition, the country’s electoral system, and a determined campaign by the ruling coalition already eyeing the 2019 presidential poll where Sall will stand for reelection. “We aren’t talking any longer about July 30, but of 2019,” said Prime Minister Mahammad Boun Abdallah Dionne at a campaign rally in July.
Among Senegal’s 6.2 million voters, 54% turned out to vote, up from 37% in the 2012 legislative polls, a testament to the perceived higher stakes of these elections compared to five years ago. The campaign was tense, at times violent. Uncharacteristically for Senegal, administrative challenges marred the vote: delays in the distribution of biometric voter cards and confusion around voter lists prevented hundreds of Senegalese from casting their ballot.
The number of seats was this year increased to 165 from 150, to give room for 15 seats for the Senegalese diaspora that for the first time will have direct representation. The gender parity quota helped women win 42% of seats. The final results validated by the Constitutional Court after it threw out opposition electoral complaints are as follows:
Table. 1. Distribution of seats following July 30 legislative elections:
|Benno Bokk Yaakaar – “Together for the same hope” (Pres. Sall)||125|
|Wattu Senegaal – “Winning Coalition” (former Pres. Wade)||19|
|Manko Taxawu Senegaal – “Accord to watch over Senegal” (Khalifa Sall)||7|
|Parti pour l’unité et le rassemblement (PUR) – (Prof. Issa Sall)||3|
|Kaddu Askanwi – “Patriotic Convergence Coalition” (Abdulaye Balde)||2|
|9 other parties/coalitions with 1 seat each||9|
Senegal’s electoral system, using a mix of party block vote (105 seats) and proportional representation (60 seats), greatly benefited the ruling coalition that won 75.8% of the seats with only 49.5% of the votes. This disproportionate win of seats was facilitated by the last minute weakening of the coalition around the mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall (no family relation to President Sall).
With former President Abdoulaye Wade returning to Senegal from France to head a separate opposition list – Wattu Senegaal – opposition votes split between two major coalitions, making it possible for the ruling Benno Book Yaakaar (BBY) coalition to win key constituencies, including Dakar, with just a relative majority of votes. Ironically, after being instrumental in hindering a wider opposition coalition, Wade is not going to take up his seat in parliament – he only ran to benefit his party.
The loss of Dakar was a particularly heavy blow for Khalifa Sall, the mayor of Dakar, currently awaiting trial for what his supporters say are trumped up fraud charges. They accuse President Sall of trying to sideline one of his potentially strongest competitors for the presidency in 2019 [see earlier blog post here]. Khalifa Sall campaigned successfully from his prison cell to win a seat in the new legislature, though his coalition overall fared poorly, winning less than 5% of seats.
Wade’s comeback likely reduced the overall number of seats going to the opposition, given the electoral system, but strengthened the relative position of his own party, the PDS (Parti Démocratique Sénégalais). Strengthening the PDS – which had 12 seats in the last legislature – is a means for former President Wade to “pave the way for his son” Karim Wade to run for the presidency in 2019, according to political analyst Ali Ndiaye. Karim, who was a powerful minister in his father’s government, was last year pardoned by President Macky Sall after serving half of a three-year prison sentence for corruption and has since been living abroad.
The legislative election victory was particularly significant for Macky Sall as the polls were widely seen as a referendum on his first five years in office and as the first round for the 2019 presidential election. While the win was noteworthy by most accounts, BBY nevertheless saw its majority slightly reduced in terms of percentage of seats – from 119/150 (79.3%) to 125/165 (75.8%) – and more importantly in terms of percentage of votes – from 53% to 49.5%. This is not surprising, given that most members of the Manku Taxawu Senegaal list were part of BBY in 2012. It means, however, that short of half of voters voted for the ruling coalition. Even if both Karim and Khalifa run in two years, given the two-round presidential election system 2019 is not a given win for Macky Sall.