Senegal – Towards a new constitution?

The National Commission for Institutional Reform (Commission Nationale pour la Réforme des Institutions – CNRI) submitted its report to President Macky Sall on February 13, 2014. Unexpectedly, the commission headed by former Unesco director general, former minister of culture and university professor Amadou Mahtar Mbow, presented a complete new draft constitution to go with the report. The 154-article long CNRI draft constitution received mixed reactions and less than a warm welcome from President Sall’s party, the APR, which claims the CNRI overstepped its mandate. The APR notably opposes the constitutional provision that would inhibit the president from retaining the chairmanship of his party.

Other constitutional changes contained in the CNRI draft constitution (which maintains a semi-presidential system) include:

  • Reduction in the duration of the presidential mandate from seven to five years; a two-term limit is maintained.
  • An age limit of 70 years for presidential candidates [there was no upper age limit before – and former President Wade was well past 70 when he ran for his last mandate].
  • The interdiction of any direct family members of an incumbent president to succeed him/her [a direct stab at Wade and his son Karim].
  • If the presidential and parliamentary majorities differ, the president must appoint a prime minister from a list of three candidates submitted by the parliamentary majority; and the power to determine national policy and to initiate legislation shifts to the prime minister – an interesting innovation aimed at governing situations of cohabitation.
  • Reduction in the legislative majority required to override a presidential veto from three fifths of the members of parliament to a simple majority.
  • Limitations to the president’s power to dissolve parliament.
  • A cap on the size of the cabinet at 25 ministers, and
  • A three term-limit for deputies.

The CNRI was mandated by President Sall to make recommendations aimed at improving institutional functioning, consolidating democracy, deepening the rule of law and modernizing Senegal’s political regime. The CNRI has its origins in the Assises nationales, a one-year long consultative process, from May 2008 to June 2009, conducted by parties and civil society organizations in opposition to then President Abdoulaye Wade, and headed by none other than Prof. Mbow. President Wade’s party refused to participate in the consultations that went ahead nevertheless and produced a somber evaluation of the socio-political-cultural development of Senegal and a Charter for Democratic Governance (Charte de gouvernance démocratique) that outlines the signatories’ vision and aspirations.

Many of the specific constitutional changes included in the CNRI draft constitution are outlined as aspirations for a truly democratic constitution in the Charter produced by the Assises nationales.  As one of the original signatories of the Charter, Macky Sall should perhaps not have been surprised by Prof. Mbow’s bold initiative.

President Sall – who was backed by a large opposition coalition with roots in the Assises nationales – has remained remarkably silent on the proposed draft constitution.

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