A Peek into Senegal’s Elections

On 24 March, over 7 million Senegalese citizens will head to the polls to elect a new president. Originally scheduled for 25th February, the presidential election had generated controversies following the indefinite postponement by the incumbent President Mack Sall, who is constitutionally ineligible to contest a third term.  

The registration for candidacy opened in October 2023 and concluded on 26 December 2023, setting the stage for a diverse field of candidates vying for the presidency. Notably, this election marks the first time in the country’s democratic history that an incumbent president will not be contesting. The Senegalese Constitutional Council had on 20th January, cleared 20 candidates, including Amadou Ba, who is President Sall’s chosen successor and former economy minister (2013 – 2019), former Prime Minister, Idrissa Seck and Anta Babacar, the head of one of Senegal’s largest food processors, Sedima, as the sole female candidate, following the withdrawal of Rose Wardini, a gynaecologist.  

Senegal has made significant strides in recent years, particularly in its legal framework and political representation. The 2010 Gender Parity Law stands out as a major achievement which propels Senegal to a leading position in West Africa for women’s parliamentary participation. With 46.1% of seats held by women, Senegal boasts one of the highest representation rates on the continent. This accomplishment is further emphasized by the increasing number of women in high-level government positions. However, these advancements haven’t translated uniformly across all aspects of gender equality. The 2022 SDG Gender Index highlights positive developments in areas like nutrition and access to water, but education remains a cause for concern. Low national investment in girls’ primary education results in limited opportunities for girls and hinders progress towards sustainable development. 

The upcoming presidential election reflects the ongoing struggle for equal representation. With only one female candidate vying for the position against 18 male contenders, the election reflects a gender disparity that persists despite legal frameworks promoting parity. This imbalance in candidacy limits women’s capacity to influence policy decisions and shape a future that addresses their specific needs and aspirations. 

Senegal’s Electoral System: How does a winner emerge?  

Senegal’s political landscape is defined by its unique electoral system, which plays a crucial role in determining the country’s leadership. At the heart of this system is the adoption of a two-round electoral process, shaping the mechanics of voting and the strategies employed by candidates vying for office. 

In Senegal, the electoral journey begins with citizens participating in the initial round of voting. During this phase, voters cast their ballots for their preferred candidates among the contenders. However, unlike some systems where a simple plurality may suffice, Senegal mandates that for a candidate to secure victory outright, they must obtain an absolute majority – that is, over 50% of the votes. This requirement sets a high bar, reflecting Senegal’s commitment to ensuring that elected leaders have broad-based support from the electorate. 

Yet, in a scenario where no single candidate manages to cross this threshold in the first round, the electoral process moves into a second phase – the run-off. This phase pits the top two candidates from the initial round against each other in a head-to-head battle for victory. It is in this run-off where winning strategies are honed, alliances are formed, and campaign efforts are intensified to secure the crucial votes needed for success. 

The significance of Senegal’s two-round electoral system cannot be overstated. It serves as a democratic safeguard, ensuring that the eventual winner enjoys the mandate of a majority of voters. Moreover, it fosters a competitive political environment, encouraging candidates to engage with voters, address their concerns, and build coalitions to broaden their appeal. 

Candidates Field:  

As Senegal gears up for its presidential election on March 24, the political landscape is abuzz with a diverse array of contenders vying for the country’s highest office. From seasoned party leaders to independent candidates, the field reflects the multiplicity of voices and visions shaping Senegal’s future. 

Among the main contenders is Amadou BA, representing the Alliance pour la République Coalition Benno Bokk Yakaar, and Boubacar CAMARA from the Party of Construction and Solidarity. These candidates bring their party platforms and political experiences to the forefront, aiming to sway voters with their promises of progress and prosperity. 

However, the spotlight isn’t solely on the familiar faces of Senegalese politics. Lesser-known candidates like Mamadou Lamine DIALLO of Mld Tekki 2024 and various independents such as El Hadji Mamadou DIAO and Mahammed Boun Abdallah DIONNE offer alternative visions and fresh perspectives, enriching the electoral discourse with their ideas and proposals. 

Yet, amidst this bustling political arena, one aspect stands out – the representation of women in Senegal’s presidential race. While predominantly male, the field includes notable female candidates like Anta Babacar NGOM, representing the Alternative for Citizen Relief party. NGOM’s candidacy symbolizes the ongoing efforts to break gender barriers and elevate women’s voices in Senegal’s political sphere. 

Anta Babacar Ngom, a 40-year-old business executive, emerges as a figure of both inspiration and aspiration. Her candidacy represents a significant stride forward for women in Senegal, marking the first time in over a decade that a female contender has entered the presidential arena. Ngom’s campaign resonates with a message of hope and empowerment, particularly for marginalized groups such as women and young people. As a staunch advocate for gender equality, Ngom pledges to address the pressing economic challenges facing the country, promising to create millions of jobs and establish a dedicated bank to support women in achieving economic independence. Her entry into the presidential race signals a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for gender equality and progress in the country.

However, despite their presence, female candidates face formidable challenges, including cultural biases and limited access to campaign resources. Senegal’s political landscape, like many others globally, remains dominated by entrenched gender stereotypes and systemic barriers that hinder women’s full participation in politics.

However, Senegal has made strides towards promoting gender equality in governance. Legislative measures, such as the gender quota requiring party lists to alternate between male and female candidates in National Assembly elections, have resulted in a relatively high representation of women in the legislature. 

Compared to other West African countries, Senegal stands out for its commitment to gender parity and women’s empowerment. With 46.1% (76 out of 165) female legislators in the National Assembly and ongoing efforts to promote women’s participation in politics, Senegal serves as a beacon of progress in the region. 

As the election date draws near, Senegalese voters are presented with a diverse array of choices, reflecting the country’s democratic ideals and commitment to inclusivity. While challenges persist, the presence of female candidates and the broader push for gender equality signal a hopeful future for Senegal’s political landscape. 

Peaceful Power Transition: Implications for Senegal and the ECOWAS Region 

A peaceful power transition in Senegal following the upcoming election has the potential to be a transformative event, one that sends positive ripples throughout the country and the wider ECOWAS region. Politically, it would solidify Senegal’s position as a democratic leader in a region often plagued by instability. Senegal’s long history of peaceful transfers of power stands is a stark contrast to the recent coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. A successful election would not only inspire these neighbouring countries to prioritize democratic processes but also strengthen public trust in Senegal’s own democratic institutions. This, in turn, could lead to greater political stability as citizens feel empowered to participate in the system and hold their leaders accountable. Data from an Afrobarometer survey reveals that 78% of Senegalese citizens already believe democracy is the best form of government, highlighting the strong public support for a smooth handover of power.  

On the economic front, a peaceful handover of power has the potential to trigger a surge in investor confidence in Senegal, a nation already viewed as relatively stable compared to its neighbours. However, a peaceful transition would further solidify this perception, attracting much-needed foreign direct investment (FDI) crucial for economic growth. The World Bank’s 2023 Doing Business report recognizes Senegal as a top reformer in sub-Saharan Africa, indicating a positive business environment. Political stability would further elevate this attractiveness, encouraging not just foreign but also domestic businesses to invest and expand. Increased FDI would inject capital into the Senegalese economy, facilitate infrastructure development, improvements in education and healthcare systems, and ultimately, job creation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) already projects a 5.6% GDP growth for Senegal in 2024, and a peaceful transition could propel the economy beyond this positive projection. 

Regionally, a peaceful Senegalese election could serve as a powerful antidote to the recent wave of coups that have disrupted political transitions and jeopardized economic development in West Africa. By demonstrating that democratic transitions are not only achievable but also beneficial, Senegal can inspire other countries to follow suit. This, in turn, could pave the way for a new wave of democratization within the ECOWAS.  

A peaceful handover of power is crucial, but it should also be seen as an opportunity to further propel the country towards gender equality. The strides made so far are commendable, but sustained efforts are required to dismantle the remaining barriers. Increased investment in girls’ education, stricter enforcement of laws protecting women’s rights, and cultural shifts that promote gender equality are all essential for a more inclusive and equitable Senegalese society. The active participation of women in the political process, not just as voters but also as candidates, is vital to achieving these goals.

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© 2024 ElectHER Development Initiative. All rights reserved.

For more info, send an email to communications@elect-her.org

© 2024 ElectHER Development Initiative. All rights reserved.

For more info, send an email to communications@elect-her.org