Senegal's election: weighing the democratic deficit

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Elimane Kane

2018-19 Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity

­Senegal has just emerged from its eleventh presidential elections. The vote, held on 24 February, concluded with a proclamation of victory for the incumbent, Macky Sall, who will duly take up his second term in office. It was a bitterly disputed contest among the five official candidates approved by the Constitutional Council, via a sponsorship system-based selection process that shrank a pool of some 30 candidates to the final five.

It was a process that worked in favour of the incumbent from the start. One might even suspect that there had been manoeuvring involved, in which significant help from a powerful electoral-engineering task force served to ensure Sall’s clear victory – with 58% of ballots cast – on polling day. Throughout the contest, Sall deployed his powerful status as head of state, given to him by a hyper-presidential regime, in his own favour.

Sall has past form in winning elections; not only his own but others’. During his time as Senegal’s prime minister (2004 to 2007), he was director of Abdoulaye Wade’s 2007 presidential campaign, and managed to secure Wade’s re-election despite the latter languishing at the bottom of the popularity polls.

Sall’s second presidential victory last month was another masterstroke, in spite of an urban electorate that was harshly critical of his political choices, investment projects and attitude towards the principles of the rule of law and fair governance. There were frustrations about how some potential candidates were pushed aside, as with Khalifa Sall, the ex-mayor of Dakar, and Karim Wade, son of the former president whose Senegalese Democratic Party machine would have seriously threatened Sall’s chances of re-election.

But with the help of state power and extensive financial resources, Sall spent the whole campaign period ahead of his four rivals, who would have always struggled to beat him in a context where the entire electoral process appeared tailor-made for the incumbent’s advantage.

Read Elimane Kane’s blog post on the LSE @ Africa Centre blog in full.

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Elimane Haby Kane is an 
Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity at the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute. An expert in governance, international development and project management, he leads the governance program at Oxfam in Senegal. He was program officer, then executive director of Forum Civil, the Senegalese section of Transparency International. He is a founding member of the pan-African think-tank LEGS-Africa.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme, the International Inequalities Institute, or the London School of Economics and Political Science.