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West African bloc urges Senegal to reverse election delay amid uproar

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, 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 February 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 as parliament rescheduled the election for December, prompting outrage and condemnation. Sall’s time in office had been set to end on April 2.

“We are disappointed in my country,” said Moustapha Kane, a teacher in the capital, Dakar, as the unrest of past days appeared to calm. “We used to be a great democracy. Now we are in danger of being the laughingstock of other countries.”

On Tuesday three Senegalese opposition lawmakers were arrested amid the fallout from parliament’s move to delay a presidential vote.

Street protests and international alarm

Lawmakers late on Monday approved a last-minute amendment to hold the vote on December 15, instead of February 25, sealing an extension of President Macky Sall’s mandate that has sparked street protests and international alarm.

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 in accordance with 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.”

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