Senegal's Macky Sall rules out controversial third term

Tuesday July 04 2023

Senegal's President Macky Sall. PHOTO | TOBIAS SCHWARZ | AFP


Under-pressure Senegalese President Macky Sall has said he doesn’t intend to run for a third term ahead of next year’s elections.

Mr Sall made the announcement in a scheduled televised address to the nation on Monday, potentially upending the trajectory of opposition protests that have punctuated the country in the last three weeks.

"The 2019 term was my second and last term," he said.

The announcement is expected to bring to an end month of political tension, fuelled by rumours of the president’s alleged intention to contest in elections slated for February 2024.

Read: Freedoms under pressure in Senegal

Sall, 61, came to power in 2012 and was re-elected in 2019. The Senegalese constitution was amended in 2016 but still provides for a maximum of two terms. But his supporters argued that his first term, which came before the constitutional amendment, didn’t count, something the opposition contested.


Apparently, Sall himself had held the view.

"My decision is not to be a candidate in the presidential election even though the constitution gives me the right to do so," he said.

Although he had never said he intended to prolong his stay, Sall also never tried to deny the rumours. He even made comments that suggested that it wasn’t a bad idea.

Last Saturday, the president had welcomed and spoke to a group of elected local officials who had signed a petition calling on him to contest for third term.

Sall said that his intention was to lead his ‘Benno Bokk Yaakar’ (BBY) coalition to victory in the elections, but that he was concerned about the unity of the nation.

"My fight and greatest pride are really to lead you to victory and to continue our economic policy for the benefit of our populations,” he said, adding: "The challenge of the moment is first of all to be united. United, there is no political force that can face BBY."

Sall’s government’s alleged persecution of outspoken opposition politician Ousmane Sonko also fuelled the rumour of his intention to contest. It led to several, sometimes deadly protests across Senegal.

The latest such protest in June resulted in the death of 16 people, according to official figures. Amnesty International put the death toll to as high as 24. That protest was sparked by the sentencing of Sonko on charges of corrupting youth.

Read: 9 dead in Senegal clashes after opposition leader jailed

The opposition politician had been charged for rape, but the court found him not guilty and instead got him on the controversial charge of corrupting the youths. He was given a two-year jail term. But he is yet to be arrested.

Sonko’s supporters believe the case was part of Sall’s plan to silence all those who posed serious threat against his third term bid, following the prosecution and jailing of former Dakar Mayor, Khalifa Sall (no relations with the president) and Karim Wade, son of former President Abdoulaye Wade,  

On Sunday, Sonko, who heads the PASTEF party, called for protests in anticipation of Monday’s announcement, which many had thought the Senegalese leader would use to confirm the long-held rumour of his intention to contest.

"We must come out to confront the regime of Macky Sall and say that it will not be up to him to choose the candidates who will face each other in the next presidential election", he declared on Sunday evening during an appearance on social networks,” Sonko said. 

Senegal, which gained independence from France in 1960, is considered one of Africa’s most peaceful democracies, although recurrent political tensions in recent years have shaken that status.