On 31st July, Senegal went to the polls to vote for its National Assembly and, for the first time in the country’s history, the president’s party failed to secure an absolute majority. This followed on from disappointing local election results in January, which saw the ruling coalition – Benno Bokk Yaakaar – lose control of the capital, Dakar. The results have not only shown the robustness of Senegal’s democratic system, which has been seen as under threat in recent years, but also dealt a significant blow to President Macky Sall’s rumoured plans for a constitutionally questionable third term.
Benno Bokk Yaakaar remains the largest party in the National Assembly, having secured 82 of the available 165 seats, but the opposition alliance of the Yewwi Askan Wi and Wallu Senegal political coalitions was a close second with 80 seats. This represented a loss of 43 seats for the ruling coalition, which will now struggle to enact its agenda. The remaining seats were won by three smaller political coalitions, which will be courted by both sides throughout this parliamentary term.
The success of Senegal’s opposition was especially notable, given that Yewwi Askan Wi’s original candidate list was disqualified by the country’s constitutional court on technical grounds in June 2022. This meant that its leader – Ousmane Sonko – and many other well-known figures in the coalition were barred from running. Consequently, many of the coalition’s candidates were largely unknown ahead of the election. Its success, therefore, shows the growing opposition to Benno Bokk Yaakaar, which has been galvanised by rumours of Macky Sall running for a third term in 2024.
The disqualification of Yewwi Askan Wi’s candidate list was another sign of the increasing rollback of democracy in Senegal under President Macky Sall, which has contributed to rumours of a third term. Criminal charges have been brought against three of Macky Sall’s closest political rivals and greater restrictions have been placed on opposition-led demonstrations. Once such rival is Sonko, whose arrest sparked violent protests in March 2021. Similar protests took place following the disqualification of the candidate list in June 2022, which threatened Senegal’s image of stability ahead of the election.
Nevertheless, the election went ahead peacefully and, although some concerns were raised by the opposition alliance about voting irregularities, it has decided not to appeal the results. It is likely that this will not only restore a degree of trust in the country’s democratic institutions but also reduce the likelihood of further violent clashes between opposition protestors and the police.
This likely reduction of unrest will be helped by the fact that a third term for Macky Sall now looks increasingly unlikely. Under Senegal’s constitution, presidents are only allowed to serve for two terms, but, following a constitutional referendum in 2016, there have been rumours that Macky Sall will use this to justify standing for a third. However, now lacking an absolute majority in the National Assembly and having to contend with a stronger opposition, it is likely that the president will reconsider any such plans. If he does not, Senegal will almost certainly experience a prolonged period of political and societal instability.