44 Year Old Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the Opposition Leader in Senegal, is Poised to Assume Presidency

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Senegalese opposition presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye addresses his first press conference after being declared winner of Senegal’s presidential election, in Dakar, on March 25, 2024.
(Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

Less than two weeks after being released from prison to contest the election, 44-year-old Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a relatively unknown opposition leader in Senegal, was announced as the country’s next president on Monday.

Although official results from Sunday’s vote were still pending, the former prime minister, who was also a top contender and backed by the incumbent President Macky Sall, conceded defeat based on preliminary results.

President Sall subsequently extended congratulations and recognized Faye as the winner. Faye’s win underscores the frustration among the youth regarding high unemployment and governance issues in Senegal.

In his inaugural speech as president-elect, delivered late Monday, the former tax inspector pledged to usher in a new era following months of unrest and numerous political arrests leading up to the election.

“I pledge to govern with humility and transparency, and to fight corruption at all levels. I pledge to devote myself fully to rebuilding our institutions,” he said, restating promises made during his campaign.

Faye, who was backed by popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, has vowed to improve Senegal’s control over its natural resources by promoting national companies to prevent the country from falling into what his campaign called “economic enslavement.” He ran in the place of his close ally Sonko, who was barred from running due to a prior conviction.

Sonko was also released on March 14 after months in prison to jubilant celebrations in the capital, following the president’s announcement of a political amnesty.

The outgoing president Sall, who triggered violent protests earlier this year when he unsuccessfully tried to postpone the election until the end of the year, described the outcome of the vote as a victory for Senegal. His former prime minister and the loser in the race, Amadou Ba, wished Faye success in a statement shared by his campaign team.

Following months of unrest triggered by the arrests of Faye and Sonko last year, as well as concerns over the president’s potential pursuit of a third term despite constitutional constraints, Sunday’s election took place amidst heightened tensions. The violence marred Senegal’s reputation as a stable democracy in a region marked by a history of coups. Human rights organizations reported numerous fatalities and the incarceration of around 1,000 individuals during the protests.

Expected to emerge victorious in the election, Faye, a former tax collector, was relatively obscure until being named as Sonko’s successor. Hailing from a small town in central Senegal, Faye is a devout Muslim with two spouses. Prior to the election, he disclosed his assets and urged other candidates to follow suit. His assets include a residence in Dakar, land both in and outside the capital, and approximately $6,600 in his bank accounts.

“I would even say that he is more honest than me. I place the project in his hands,” Sonko told supporters at a joint news conference in March of last year. Weeks later, Faye was arrested and jailed on various charges, including defamation.

Alioune Tine, founder of Afrikajom Center, a Senegalese think tank, said the outcome of the vote proved Senegal would survive after a difficult year that had undermined the population’s faith in democracy.

“From prison to the presidential palace,” said Tine. “The only country in Africa capable of withstanding a disease of its democracy that has shaken all its institutions, profoundly shaken its society, only to recover from it.”

International analysts said a change in leadership in Senegal would come as a relief after months of violence, but raised new questions about the foreign policy of the new government at a time when the coastal nation is becoming an oil and gas producer.

On Monday night, Faye outlined some early foreign policy priorities, which included reforming the troubled West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS.

“A win by the opposition also means major changes ahead in domestic and foreign policies,” said Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, adding that a promise to move away from former colonial power France could define the foreign policy of the country’s new government.

Across neighboring countries in the Sahel, including Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, that recently experienced military coups, sentiment has turned against France. The ruling juntas have ended military cooperation with France, while turning instead to Russia for support.

The vote was largely peaceful with a high turnout, observers said. Early counts showed voters turned out overwhelmingly in favor of the opposition. Sonko promised a resounding victory on his YouTube channel. By the evening in Dakar, Faye had been declared the winner and celebrations erupted in Dakar.

In neighborhoods around the capital, supporters danced, played music and set off fireworks until late at night.

“Our democracy will emerge stronger from these results,” said Ndeye Sow, 27. “We’re delighted, there was no violence here, serenity is the order of the day.”

More than 7 million people were registered to vote in a country of roughly 17 million. To win, candidates had to secure more than 50% of the vote. It was Senegal’s fourth democratic transfer of power since gaining independence from France more than six decades ago.

Source: France 24.com

 

 

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