Tag Archives: Senegal

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.