Senegal court bars two opposition candidates from presidential vote

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Senegal’s Constitutional Court has published an official list of five candidates to contest next month’s presidential election, including head of state Macky Sall – but excluding two prominent opposition figures.

The seven-member court late Sunday confirmed a provisional list issued last week that barred former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and ex-minister Karim Wade because of convictions for misuse of public funds.

Aside from Macky Sall, the four other candidates in the February 24 vote will be rising opposition MP Ousmane Sonko; former prime minister Idrissa Seck; Madicke Niang, an associate of former president Abdoulaye Wade; and El Hadji Sall of the Unity and Assembly Party (PUR).

Thousands of supporters of both barred politicians have staged protests in recent months calling for fair and transparent elections while challenging the impartiality of the justice and interior ministries.

President Sall, 57, who is not related to the two other men of the same name, was elected in 2012, taking the helm of one of West Africa’s most prosperous and stable countries.

The former French colony has been seen as a model of democracy in the region, having never experienced a coup d’etat and successfully staging peaceful transfers of power in 2000 and 2012.

The court rejected appeals filed by Wade and Khalifa Sall against the provisional ruling.

“Naturally, we totally reject the decision that has just been made public by the Constitutional Court,” a representative for Khalifa Sall, Babacar Thioye Ba, told reporters.

“The Constitutional Court has not made a decision based on the law,” he said. The court “is a bit like the Tower of Pisa. It is always leaning on one side, that of those in power.”

“The only response, the only answer, remains political action,” he said, adding that consultations will take place in the coming days between opposition candidates to define their strategy.

Khalifa Sall, 63, one of Senegal’s most popular politicians, was handed a five-year jail term last March for fraudulent use of public funds, a conviction that he said was politically motivated. He appealed it unsuccessfully.

He held various ministerial portfolios before being elected mayor of the capital in 2009 and reelected in 2014, a position that catapulted him to nationwide prominence.

Karim Wade, 50, was widely seen as being groomed to succeed his father, former president Abdoulaye Wade.

Paris-educated, he served as minister of state for international cooperation from 2009 to 2012.

In 2015, shortly after his father’s party, the centrist Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), designated him its candidate for the next presidential elections, Wade was given a six-year jail term for “illegal enrichment” — amassing a fortune allegedly worth at least 178 million euros ($204 million).

President Sall pardoned Wade in 2016, although a huge fine, the equivalent of more than 210 million euros, still stood.

The incumbent says he is confident of winning re-election in the first round.