Supporters of Ousmane Sonko during a rally in Dakar, March 14, 2023. JOHN WESSELS / AFP
Maintaining unity around Ousmane Sonko is today the challenge of Yewwi Askan Wi (YAW), the opposition coalition in Senegal. By announcing on Monday July 3 that he will not run for a third term in the presidential election scheduled for February 2024, President Macky Sall gave him a victory, but he also deprived him of one of his two arguments. of mobilization. The question now arises of the cohesion of the opposition around the second: the candidacy of Mr. Sonko, an opponent who is certainly popular but, as it stands, ineligible after several convictions, under house arrest and under threat of arrest. .
“Since Monday, I hear people (…) exult. But be careful, you have to be very careful. The central question of Senegal’s stability remains the case of Ousmane Sonko. To prevent him from being a candidate is to defy millions of young Senegalese and Africans. And no one can control the young people”warned Wednesday Habib Sy, the president of the conference of the leaders of YAW.
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“That he [Macky Sall] say that Ousmane Sonko will not be a candidate and Senegal will no longer sleep. The candidacy of Ousmane Sonko is a demand of the people. It will in no way depend on a conspiracy. He will be a candidate added Birame Soulèye Diop for the African Patriots of Senegal for work, ethics and fraternity (Pastef), the party of Mr. Sonko.
The latter has shown his ability to raise the street, and a possible arrest would be likely to provoke new violence. In June, in the wake of his trial for “rape” and, in fine, sentenced to two years in prison for “youth corruption”, at least 23 people were killed in clashes with the police, according to Amnesty International. The Minister of Justice then affirmed that the opponent could be arrested “at any time”.
And in his speech on Monday, the head of state maintained a firm line against Mr. Sonko, assuring that “the authors, the sponsors, the accomplices [des violences] will answer for their unspeakable acts before the courts. and that he will not compromise with “of the gravediggers of the nation, of the State, of the Republic”.
“Macky Sall used justice to remove Ousmane Sonko. Our wish is that he takes political measures to definitively settle this problem in order to install Senegal in stability”, however pleads Habib Sy.
Abdoulaye Wade’s former minister refers to the probable lifting of the ineligibility of Karim Wade, the son of the former president, and Khalifa Sall, the former mayor of Dakar, both convicted by the courts. By agreeing to participate in the national dialogue launched at the end of May by the Head of State, these two opponents have in fact negotiated their right to participate in the 2024 election. At the request of Macky Sall, the National Assembly must proceed urgently to the modification of the provisions preventing them from presenting themselves. A clemency from which Ousmane Sonko will not benefit, who, like other members of YAW, declined the offer of dialogue, judging it instrumentalized by the president.
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This sequence of consultations fractured the coalition. For having participated, Khalifa Sall is accused by Mr. Sonko’s supporters of having negotiated his eligibility in return for the elimination of their champion. A sign of internal tensions, the former mayor of Dakar was not present at the YAW conference on Tuesday. On RFI, he was content to wish that “all those who aspire to be a candidate can do so”, taking care not to name Mr. Sonko.
In the event of the final ousting of the leader of Pastef, who came third in the 2019 presidential election with 15% of the vote, the cards would obviously be reshuffled within the opposition. Yesterday’s allies could benefit from this, starting with Khalifa Sall. But while polls on political opinions are banned in Senegal, his popularity remains uncertain, while that of Ousmane Sonko has grown steadily in recent years.
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“Khalifa Sall is certainly established in the capital, but this is partly due to the YAW machine. It remains difficult to estimate its weight at the national level”, explains Babacar Ndiaye, political analyst at the Wathi think tank. “It should not be underestimated. He is a man respected and appreciated by the religious. His time in prison gave him the image of a martyr. Moreover, he appears less divisive than other leaders in his camp,” judges a local political actor.
The Déthié Fall option
On the Pastef side, we refuse to mention the probability of a candidacy other than that of Ousmane Sonko. The opponent constitutes, according to its formula, “plan A to Z” of the party, regardless of the outcome of its legal cases. What will happen in case of arrest? “The Pastef has bet everything on Sonko, he is the only one who can defend him. Seven months before the election, the party will find it difficult to bring out a leading personality,” Babacar Ndiaye analysis.
There remains the option of a candidacy led by another YAW leader, Déthié Fall. At the head of the Republican Party for Progress (PRP), this close friend of Mr. Sonko also refused national dialogue. Could he convince the electorate of Pastef? “He is respected but is not a new face of politics”, while “Sonko embodies a wind of novelty”, continues Babacar Ndiaye.
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After years of controversy around the third term and seven months before the presidential election, the substantive debates are likely to wait. However, the situation is unprecedented. “For the first time, we will have a campaign without the outgoing president. This is an opportunity to attend a confrontation of ideas, programs and visions of Senegal, says Babacar Ndiaye. The opposition will have to quickly renew its discourse now that the question of the third term is settled. And that it now goes to the essential subjects which concern the Senegalese, such as the improvement of their living conditions. » It remains to settle, beforehand, the question of the personalities entitled to present their program.