Senegal: Assembly grants eligibility to Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade for the presidential election

Seven months before the presidential election, two figures of the Senegalese opposition, Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, are expected to be able to defend their candidacy after the electoral code reform adopted on Saturday by the deputies.

This reform allows a convicted person who has subsequently been granted amnesty or pardon – which is the case for these two men – to appear on the electoral lists.

In Senegal, the deputies have made Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, two figures of the opposition, eligible for the presidential election, which is expected to take place in seven months and where they are expected to be among the main candidates.

The reform of the electoral code, adopted with 124 votes for, 1 against and 0 abstentions, allows a convicted person who has subsequently been granted amnesty or pardon – which is the case for Sall and Wade – to appear on the electoral lists and therefore to run in the elections.

If the text defended by the government is promulgated, Khalifa Sall, former mayor of Dakar, and Karim Wade, heir of former president Abdoulaye Wade, are expected to be among the main candidates for the February 2024 presidential election.

They were prevented from running in the 2019 election against the incumbent and future winner Macky Sall (no relation to Khalifa) due to their convictions in separate financial cases.

Their electoral rehabilitation is particularly seen as contributing to overcoming the turmoil experienced by Senegal. The country, which stands out for its relative stability in a troubled region, has experienced several episodes of deadly unrest since 2021 due to the power struggle between opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and the government.

The uncertainty over the incumbent president’s candidacy for a third term and the eligibility of Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade have contributed to tensions. President Macky Sall, who has been in power since 2012, has finally announced that he will not seek reelection.

After more than two years of open confrontation with the government and two convictions, Ousmane Sonko, who has become the most visible figure of the opposition, was imprisoned on Monday on various charges, and his candidacy now seems unrealistic. With the likely return of Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade to the race, the distribution of the presidential race, unprecedented in its indecision, is becoming clearer.

Karim Wade, 54, a collaborator and minister under his father’s presidency from 2000 to 2012, was sentenced in 2015 to six years in prison for illicit enrichment. He was detained for more than three years and was pardoned in 2016 by the president, but had to go into exile. Khalifa Sall, 67, mayor of Dakar since 2009, was found guilty of embezzling approximately 2.5 million euros from the municipal coffers and was sentenced to five years in prison in 2018.

He was imprisoned in 2017 and regained his freedom in 2019, also thanks to a presidential pardon. Both opponents, like Ousmane Sonko, have denounced the procedures against them as a political conspiracy. In this context, President Sall initiated a dialogue with part of the opposition at the end of May. He agreed to discuss the eligibility of Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade.

The participants agreed to amend the electoral code. Khalifa Sall and Ousmane Sonko formed an alliance in 2021 in view of future election events. Their coalition, Yewwi Askan Wi, won several cities, including Dakar, in the 2022 local elections, and then emerged that same year as the main opposition force to Macky Sall in Parliament.

The possibility of amnesty for Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, raised by President Sall after these elections, was interpreted as a maneuver to fracture the opposition. In fact, Khalifa Sall and his followers agreed to participate in the dialogue initiated by the president, while Ousmane Sonko vehemently refused. The presence of the latter loomed over the debate in the National Assembly.

The presidential camp left the session in turmoil when a deputy demanded that Ousmane Sonko benefit from the reform. This represents “the elimination of a candidate who represented enormous hope for the population,” said MP Bakary Diédhiou, referring to a “cynical” law.

Interior Minister Antoine Abdoulaye Félix Diome argued that the text was not just about reforming eligibility conditions, but also about sponsorship and deposit rules.

The presidential camp has given President Sall a blank check to designate a candidate for his own succession. His decision is eagerly awaited after his meeting with numerous contenders on Thursday.


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