Authorities in Senegal should hold the presidential election this month as scheduled instead of delaying it by 10 months, West Africa’s regional bloc said Tuesday, as the United Nations human rights office expressed concern about the unprecedented decision in one of Africa’s most stable democracies.
President Macky Sall postponed the Feb. 25 vote, citing an electoral dispute between the parliament and the judiciary regarding some candidacies. Opposition leaders and candidates rejected the decision, calling it a “coup.”
Several opposition lawmakers were blocked from voting on Monday as parliament rescheduled the election for December, prompting outrage and condemnation. Sall’s time in office had been set to end on April 2.
The vote has been surrounded by months of controversies, from deadly clashes that resulted in Sall announcing that he would not seek a third term to the disqualification of two opposition leaders by the highest election authority.
The West Africa bloc known as ECOWAS, which has struggled to contain a surge in coups in the region, encouraged the political class “to take steps urgently to restore the electoral calendar by the provisions of Senegal’s Constitution.”
Senegal’s presidential election has never been postponed. The constitution does empower the Constitutional Council, the highest election authority, to reschedule the vote in certain circumstances, including “the death, permanent incapacity or withdrawal” of candidates.
United Nations human rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell expressed concern about the situation in Senegal and said any decision to postpone elections should be “based on broad-based consultations.”
The crisis comes at a time when the West African bloc is struggling to retain its members. Three coup-hit nations pulled out last week after accusing it of “inhumane” sanctions in response to military takeovers.
Oluwole Ojewale, a West and Central Africa analyst with the Africa-focused Institute for Security Studies, noted that the bloc must limit its interference in member nations’ politics or expand its supervisory role, adding that ECOWAS is inconsistent as it cannot be alert to condemning military coups and threatening intervention while condoning irresponsible political behaviour in other contexts.