Tag Archives: Senegal

Senegal – Back to presidentialism?

Newly reelected President Macky Sall has given his prime minister, Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, the unenviable task of eliminating his own position. This will entail changing Senegal’s constitution — once again — and reintroduce a presidential system.

Despite Senegal’s history of relative political stability, the country’s constitutional history has been far from stable. Senegal is at its fourth constitution, since 1959, and has changed government system several times already. In between constitutions, there have been numerous constitutional amendments, most of which have been passed by a legislative vote without resorting to a referendum.

In August 1960, Senegal adopted its second constitution — and its first as an independent, separate republic — after abandoning the short-lived Mali Federation created by the first 1959 constitution. The 1960 constitution was modeled on the 1958 French example with a dual executive: with an indirectly elected president as head of state and a prime minister (“cabinet president”) appointed by the president, but accountable to the National Assembly. Léopold Sédar Senghor was elected Senegal’s first president and his close political ally Mamadou Moustapha Dia became the country’s first prime minister.

This two-headed executive system did not survive a rapidly mounting power struggle between Senghor and Dia that culminated in a constitutional crisis in 1962. Legislators were about to take a no confidence vote in Dia, when the prime minister ordered the army to hinder access to the National Assembly building. Senghor accused Dia of a constitutional coup attempt and had him arrested. The military remained loyal to the president and Dia spent the next 12 years in jail. Senghor promptly took steps to avoid a similar situation in the future and initiated a new, presidential constitution that was approved by referendum in March 1963 (the country’s third constitution in four years). Senghor was reelected in December of that year by popular vote for a four-year presidential term, without term limits. In 1967, in the first of what was to be a be a total of 20 revisions to the 1963 constitution, the presidential term was increased to five years.

Senegal returned to a dual executive system in 1970 with the reintroduction of the prime minister position, in an effort to defuse tensions in a context of social unrest with student demonstration and labor strikes. Senghor initiated a referendum on a constitutional change that this time resulted in a fully fledged semi-presidential government system, providing for a directly elected president and a prime minister accountable to parliament (modeled on the 1962 revised French constitution). This revision also introduced a two-term presidential term limit. This limit was, however, removed again in the fifth constitutional revision of April 1976.

Before finishing his fourth elected term, Senghor resigned on December 31, 1980. Prime Minister Abdou Diouf became president and served out the rest of the term. Shortly after being elected president on his own account in 1983, Diouf initiated a constitutional change to return Senegal to presidentialism. The argumentation presented for the revision included the need for greater efficiency and effectiveness of government action and the expressed desire for a more direct contact between the president and the population. This time, presidentialism survived for eight years, till 1991. With the return to semi-presidentialism in 1991, as the third wave of democratization swept across Africa, Senegal also reintroduced presidential term limits. The term limits were, however, removed again in 1998, in the 19th revision to the 1963 constitution.

When Abdoulaye Wade won the presidency in 2000, marking the first time that executive power transitioned from one party to another in Senegal’s history, the new president initiated the elaboration of a new constitution. The country thus got its fourth and current constitution adopted by referendum in 2001. Senegal retained a semi-presidential system of government, and reintroduced presidential term limits. This new constitution has not fared much better than the old one, however, in terms of amendments. By 2010, the constitutional text had already been revised 15 times, according to Robert Elgie.

Senegal – Changes in government system and presidential term limits

1960Dual executive system, no presidential term limits
1970Semi-presidentialism, term limits introduced [removed again in 1976]
1991Semi-presidentialism, term limits reintroduced [removed again in 1998, reintroduced in 2001]

President Macky Sall, shortly after being elected in 2012, initiated a constitutional revision to remove the senate from Senegal’s democratic architecture, but has overall had a less piecemeal approach to constitutional reform. In 2016, the government introduced a series of amendments that touched 20 articles of the constitution and were passed by referendum. Chief among these was the reduction of the length of presidential terms to five years, from the seven years it had been increased to under Wade. Sall’s second term, after his reelection in February of this year, will thus be reduced to five years.  

Sall is now following in the footsteps of Diouf, moving to return Senegal to presidentialism. Perhaps it is his shortened presidential term that provides Sall with a sense of urgency and the desire to streamline decision-making processes. His arguments for returning to presidentialism echo those of Diouf, saying that eliminating the prime minister position will help “reduce administrative bottlenecks” and “bring the administration closer to the people.” His critics allege it is a power grab. It is striking that Sall did not mention his plans to change government system during his campaign for reelection. The first indication of his intentions came in an announcement on April 6, by Mahammed Dionne whom he had just reappointed prime minister. The government thereafter moved quickly and on April 17 adopted a constitutional amendment removing the prime minister position.

The proposed constitutional amendment was on April 24 sent to the National Assembly that will now review and debate the proposed changes. A vote is set for May 4th. It will require a three fifth majority to pass the amendment by legislative vote, a likely outcome in a legislature where the presidential coalition controls a 75 percent majority (125 out of 165 seats). Should the legislative vote pass with less than 60 percent, a referendum is required. The text of the constitutional amendment has not yet been made public, but an alleged copy is circulating online. Reportedly, besides transferring responsibilities as head of government to the president, the revised text also foresees a clearer separation of powers between the legislature and the executive: on the one hand the legislature can no longer topple the cabinet through a no confidence vote, on the other hand, the president cannot dissolve the legislature as is currently the case.

There is no indication that the proposed constitutional amendment will touch on presidential term limits. Hopefully Sall will not follow in the steps of another previous president – Wade – who stood for a third term despite term limit provisions. Wade argued in 2012 that he should be allowed to run again because presidential term limits had been reintroduced in 2001, after he was elected, and could not be considered retroactively. Elsewhere on the continent, Côte  d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara has argued that the adoption of a new constitution in 2016 reset the term limit counter and that he could therefore run again in 2020, if he wanted to. In Senegal, the difference is that if the amendment passes, the country will have a new government system, but not a new constitution. It remains to be seen whether this is a sure bulwark in a country and region where term limits have proven fickle in the past. In neighboring Guinea, President Alpha Conde and his supporters seem increasingly intent on initiating a constitutional referendum that would lift term limits before Conde’s second and last term comes to an end next year. Despite significant democratic progress in West Africa over the past decade, the notion of presidential term limits does not yet appear to be firmly entrenched.

Senegal’s controversial constitutional referendum – how much of a change?

On March 20th Senegal held a referendum on constitutional amendments introduced by President Macky Sall. The yes- and the no-campaigns competed vigorously in the weeks leading up to the vote and ultimately the yes-campaign backed by President Sall won with 62.7 percent of votes. Voter turn-out was 38.3 percent. The referendum was widely seen as a test of President Sall’s popularity. Proponents of the no-campaign included the youth group Y’en a marre and even members of Sall’s own coalition such as the mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall.

Key among the newly passed amendments is the one reducing the duration of presidential terms from 7 to 5 years (art. 27). This was a campaign promise by President Sall when he ran and was elected in 2012 – and paradoxically the most controversial element of the referendum. The change will only apply to the next mandate, meaning that Macky Sall will serve out his current 7-year term. Opponents say this is going back on his campaign promise of shortening his present mandate – calling it Wakh Wakhet (going back on his word). Also, critics are suspicious that Sall may use the constitutional change to restart the presidential term-counter at 0 and claim he can run for two more terms, as did former President Abdoulaye Wade before him. Macky Sall and his supporters point to an opinion by the Constitutional Court that the duration of the presidential mandate could not be changed mid-stream. They also underscore the wording of the new art. 27 which states that “no one can serve more than two consecutive terms.”

In total, 20 articles of the 2001 constitution were replaced or had sub-articles added.  Overall, the changes affecting presidential powers are fairly minor.

Amendments in addition to shortening the presidential term include:

  • Allowing independent candidates to run in elections at national and local levels (new art. 4).
  • Setting an upper age limit for presidential candidates at 75 years (new art. 28).
  • Institutionalizing the position of Leader of the Opposition with specific rights and responsibilities to be determined by law (new art. 58). This is a position that exists in a number of Francophone African countries, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Guinea.
  • Giving the Senegalese diaspora the right to elect their representatives in the National Assembly (new art. 59).
  • Increasing the membership of the Constitutional Council from 5 to 7 judges, of which 2 now have to be proposed by the National Assembly (new art. 89); and requiring the validation by the Constitutional Council of organic laws (new art. 78).
  • Instituting the practice of regular questioning of the Prime Minister and cabinet by the National Assembly (new art. 85), and the right of parliamentary committees to hold hearings with leaders of public entities and parastatal companies (new art. 81).
  • Locking in the duration and number of presidential mandates, as well as the mode of election of the president which cannot be changed through constitutional revisions (new art. 103).
  • Providing for transparency in the management of natural resources that must be exploited in a sustainable manner and for the benefit of the people (new art. 25-1); and requiring the government to protect the environment (new art.25-2).

President Sall chose a more modest revision than the complete overhaul of the constitution proposed by the National Commission for Institutional Reform (CNRI) in 2014. Among the innovations proposed by the CNRI which Sall did not include among his amendments were the following [see previous post here for further details]:

  • Requiring that the president step down as chair of his/her party.
  • Prohibiting a direct family member of an incumbent president to succeed him/her.
  • Requiring that the president appoint a prime minister from a list of three candidates submitted by the parliamentary majority, if the presidential and parliamentary majorities differ [that is, in case of cohabitation], in which case executive power would largely shift to the prime minister.
  • Reducing the legislative majority required to override a presidential veto from three fifths of the members of parliament to a simple majority.
  • Limiting the president’s power to dissolve parliament.
  • Capping the size of the cabinet at 25 ministers.

Though the newly passed amendments do provide for greater oversight by the National Assembly and Constitutional Council, they do not check presidential powers nearly to the extent envisioned by the CNRI. The CNRI had its origins in the Assises nationales, a one-year long consultative process conducted by parties and civil society organizations in opposition to then President Abdoulaye Wade. When Sall ran and won against Wade in 2012, he was backed by a large opposition coalition with roots in the Assises.

Senegal – What do the local election results mean for President Macky Sall and the ruling coalition?

President Macky Sall went into the June 29, 2014 local polls determined to make a score for his alliance Bennoo Bokk Yaakaar (BBY – “together for the same hope,” in Wolof) in general, and for his party, the Alliance for the Republic (APR), in particular – even if it meant going against other candidates from BBY in localities where the alliance could not agree on a list. Preliminary results indicate that while BBY may have won a majority of the electoral districts (70% or more), it lost most of the big cities to the opposition or to dissidents within the ruling coalition.

Up for grabs were 2,700 councilors seats, to be filled through a mixed majoritarian-proportional electoral system. Newly elected councilors will in turn elect mayors and heads of provinces. Final, consolidated results are not yet available, but results published at the departmental level indicate that BBY has lost in Dakar and several cities, including Thiès, Touba, M’Bour, Dagana and Ziguinchor. In Saint Louis, Mansour Faye, a brother-in-law of President Sall, managed to win with 800 hundred votes ahead of Ahmet Fall Braya of the Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS) of former President Wade. Voter turn-out appears to have been low, below 40%, similar to the 37% voter turn-out for the legislative elections in 2012 (International IDEA).

In Dakar, the chief electoral prize due to its large body of voters, BBY lost big to incumbent mayor Khalifa Sall. Khalifa Sall ran with his own coalition after failing to get the backing of BBY, though he belongs to the Socialist Party (PS), a member of the BBY coalition that supported Macky Sall in the presidential run-off in 2012. The PS is the party of former President Abdou Diouf and of founding father Léopold Sédar Senghor, in power from 1960 to 2000.

Prime Minister Aminata Touré (APR) was the biggest loser in Dakar – where she stood against Khalifa Sall in the commune of Grand Yoff, one of the 19 communes that form the district of Dakar. Khalifa Sall won in 15 of those communes, including Grand Yoff. The PM was swiftly dismissed from her position on July 4th after serving 10 months in office. President Sall appointed Mohamed Dionne to replace her on July 6th, the third prime minister in less than three years. Dionne is a close aid of Macky Sall, and a former employee of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

What do the local election results mean for Macky Sall and BBY? The BBY coalition appears to have been weakened by the polls due to the lack of internal consensus on party lists in key constituencies. Analysts point out that when former President Wade lost the major cities in the 2009 local elections, it was a harbinger of things to come in the 2012 presidential race. With Khalifa Sall as a potentially significant adversary in the 2017 presidential poll, Macky Sall may decide that the APR and PS are no longer “together for the same hope.”

Senegal – Local elections: a test for President Macky Sall

Senegal’s 5.3 million voters went to the polls on Sunday, June 29th, to elect their representatives at the local and departmental levels, in a vote largely seen as a confidence vote in the government of President Macky Sall. Overall, the elections were peaceful without major organizational issues, despite a record number of party lists. Voters were presented with a choice among 2,700 party lists or independents, up from 1,600 in the last local elections held in 2009, for 602 local offices. Initial results from the polls that closed at 18h00, Dakar time on Sunday are already trickling in, and complete results are expected by the end of the week. The Senegalese Radio Television Station RTS is streaming results by polling station as they become available: http://www.rts.sn/.

The high number of party lists in competition for Sunday’s poll is a result of the fragmentation of the alliance Bennoo Bokk Yaakaar (BBY) that brought President Sall to power in March 2012. In a number of cities even the president’s own party, the Alliance for the Republic (APR), presented competing lists. The APR is a relatively newly created party, in existence only since 2008. It is accused by its coalition partners of having an exaggerate appetite for power. In 2009, the APR only won control of a few local governments, a situation it was clearly intent on changing.

Dakar was a key battleground for these elections. The mayorship of the capital of Senegal is generally seen as a natural launching pad for a bid for the presidency. Facing off were the incumbent mayor Khalifa Sall of the Socialist Party (PS) – a member of the BBY alliance – and current Prime Minister Aminata Touré (APR), among others. They both stood for election in Grand Yoff, one of the 19 communes that form the district of Dakar. Following decentralization reform in 2013, mayors are now indirectly elected by the councilors of the communes that make up the district, a process that increases the challenges of securing reelection for the incumbent.

According to preliminary results, it would appear that Khalifa Sall won the vote in Grand Yoff. In the lead-up to the polls, Sall created a new coalition, Taxawu Ndakaru, with the participation of civil society and even opposition parties, in an effort at securing reelection. With the 2013 decentralization reform, the mayor of Dakar has lost some control over the resources of the individual communes that form the capital district, but the position remains highly coveted given the visibility it provides and the size of the electorate in Dakar.

Other hotly contested cities include St. Louis and Fatick. In St. Louis, Mansour Faye, a brother-in-law of President Sall, seeks to wrestle the mayorship from incumbent Cheick Bambia Dièye – although Dièye (like Khalifa Sall) is a member of the BBY alliance that supported Macky Sall in the presidential run-off in 2012.

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.