Opposition candidates banned from Senegal presidential election

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Two of Senegal’s best known opposition figures have been barred from running in presidential elections next month, the Constitutional Council said, increasing President Macky Sall’s chances of securing a second term.

Khalifa Sall, a former mayor of Dakar and no relative of President Sall, and Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, were jailed for graft and corruption in 2018 and 2015 respectively.

Under Senegalese law, the sentences effectively ended their chances of running in the February 24 poll and the Constitutional Council confirmed this outcome on Monday.

The opposition says the sentences were part of the president’s plan to silence popular opponents so he can secure a second mandate, charges the ruling party denies.

Both presidential hopefuls collected more than the 53,000 supporting signatures required to run.

Khalifa remains in jail serving a five-year sentence for embezzling 1.8 billion CFA francs ($3.2 million) in public funds. He was denied an appeal by the Supreme Court and his lawyer plans to take the case to another chamber.

Karim went into exile in Qatar in 2017 after serving half his six year sentence.

In a document sent to lawyers and seen by Reuters, the Constitutional Council said Khalifa and Karim’s candidacies went against Senegal’s electoral law, which bars citizens sentenced to more than five years jail from running for president.

The two have 48 hours to appeal the Council’s decision, which will publish a final list of approved candidates 35 days before voting takes place.

Only four opposition candidates have so far been approved by the Council, including Wade’s former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck. Political neophyte Ousmane Sonko is popular among Senegalese youth representing a significant portion of the voting population.

Senegal, has had three largely peaceful transitions of power since independence from France in 1960.