Contenders launch campaigns for Senegal’s delayed presidential pollSat, 09 Mar 2024 21:05:48 GMT

Campaigning got underway in a festive atmosphere on Saturday for Senegal’s March 24 presidential election, after weeks of turmoil caused by its delay, as one of the leading contenders met voters.Khalifa Sall, a former mayor of Dakar, toured different neighbourhoods of the capital in the evening, greeting several hundreds of his supporters.”I am delighted after all these months of tests and uncertainty that we can at last begin the electoral campaign,” he told AFP.Several hundred supporters of Sall, no relation to the outgoing president, waited for his arrival in a festive mood, singing and playing music, and cheering him on his arrival.Of the 19 presidential candidates, he is seen as one of the main contenders to succeed President Macky Sall, who is not standing for re-election.The vote had originally been due to take place on February 25.But the president plunged the country — usually a beacon of stability in a region fraught with military coups — into its worst crisis in years on February 3 by postponing the election, just before campaigning was due to begin.That sparked street protests that left four people dead and international condemnation, as opponents accused Macky Sall of trying to remain in power beyond the scheduled end of his term on April 2.The crisis was defused after the Constitutional Council overruled Sall and set the election date for March 24.The campaign season was limited to two weeks rather than the usual three weeks due to the need to find a successor before Sall’s tenure is up next month.- Faye campaigns behind bars -The coalition of anti-establishment candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye, began its campaign on Saturday by presenting its programme to the press.Faye has been behind bars since April 2023 but is hoping to benefit from an amnesty law that would allow him to stand.His potential release, as well as that of his party’s leader Ousmane Sonko, who has been barred from running in the election, could fire up the election campaign.Sonko’s vitriolic speeches against the elites, multinational companies and former colonial power France’s enduring influence in Senegal resonates with younger voters.Faye is confident of claiming outright victory in the first round.But so too is Amadou Ba, the candidate picked to represent the outgoing president’s camp, who was due to meet with his campaign team on Saturday.Earlier, he met with Sidiki Kaba, who succeeded Ba as prime minister after he resigned on Wednesday to allow him to campaign for the presidency.Another contender is former prime minister Idrissa Seck, but the race is viewed as wide open with no-one guaranteed of making a second-round run-off.The fight to restore an election programme in the last few weeks spoke of the attachment to democracy in a country of 18 million people that is among the lowest 30 in the world for human development, according to the United Nations.Campaigning will largely take place during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan in a country that is majority Muslim.