Senegal’s Referendum on March 20th 2016



Senegalese are being called upon to vote on the draft constitution in the oncoming referendum based on 15 points. According to the government, the expectation is to strengthen the republic, modernize the political system and entrench democracy and the rule of law.

Since the announcement of this referendum, different political and social forces in the country are taking their positions for a Yes or the No vote. And they are ready to start campaigning.


Expectedly, the presidential camp is gunning for the YES vote. Opposing them are the NO vote supporters, divided into two groups, the official opposition and sections of civil society. According to the “YES” supporters, this revision reflects a desire to solidify institutions and to strengthen the democracy. However, their opponents, the “NO” supporters, argue that the president, who had promised to reduce his current term in office, has reneged on this promise and therefore has no basis push this move.


It’s on record that Macky Sall made the promise in 2012 after being elected, a position he has been reiterating. The “NO” vote supporters are arguing that whatever the outcome from the referendum, one fact sticks, president Macky Sall has broken his promise. And they’ve packaged it in a message '' Waxète Wax '', which loosely translates to ‘going back on his word’ in the Wolof dialect.


However, when listening to the NO vote proponents, we realize that the two groups in this camp do not share the same agenda. Civil society, represented by the movement “Yen a Marre” and other civic and human rights organizations, which often plays a watchdog role, seems to not have a clear motive. They are part of ‘NO’ voters and are advocating for honouring of election promises. For them, the president should use any means to fulfil his commitment.


But it’s the official opposition, also within the “NO” voters, that are hiding their intentions. According to observers, this group claim to denounce the U-turn card played by the president, an act they aver is destroying the credibility of political leaders.  Truth is, we are faced by a coterie of politicians who just want to take advantage of this opportunity to destabilize the presidency and while at it, position themselves for the next election.


Khalifa Ababacar, for instance, after his two terms in the mayor’s docket is now eyeing the Presidency. He positions himself as a disciplined militant and close to the legendary Ousmane Tanor Dieng, Secretary General of the Socialist Party. While Ousmane Tanor Dieng is rallying support for the YES vote with Macky Sall, the plot is thickening for Khalifa. This referendum will also impact the next presidential elections. Khalifa Sall should weigh his choices, whether to support or oppose Macky Sall and then begin strategizing for his candidacy in the 2019 presidential election.


El Hadji Malick Gackou, leader of the Grand Parti has no choices to make. He has to vote for NO. Often described as 'dissatisfied' of the Alliance pour la République –AFP, and after his expulsion from the party of Moustapha Niass, Malick Gackou needs to confront his former mentor to better confirm his break with his former party. Currently Gackou is committed to setting up a new party. The referendum campaign is a good sparring-bag for him to position himself as a credible contender considering the fact that he lost in the local election, in which he was expected to win since he vied in party headquarters, Guédiawaye, where he is popular.


Idrissa Seck, leader of the party Rewmi (‘the country’ in Wolof), the second largest opposition party, is always shouting from rooftops on the incompetence of president Macky Sall. Today as he campaigns for the NO vote, he is punching holes into his opponent’s image and credibility by terming the president’s turn-around as disgraceful.


Abdoul Mbaye, even after leaving the prime minister’s office, is still perceived by many as a potential candidate and, according to some of his relatives, ‘There are things that he needs to achieve’, and ‘His 17 months as Premier have given him a mouth-watering spirit.’


It is steadily becoming an open secret that the former Prime Minister was preparing himself to throw his hat into the ring for a presidential duel. While giving his opinions on the proposed referendum in which he supports the No vote, he has used the opportunity to criticize the president and announce his intention to vie when the next general elections dawn.


Beyond these positions, campaigns are in full gear and consequently, this competition is likely to outgrow its perimeter, sensitizing citizens to vote YES or NO, since it has begun forming a pattern that can be interpreted as a mock presidential contest.


Already we are witnessing messages from the opposition, the NO team that edge on sensitive and even taboo issues.


On the other hand there’s proof that national television Radio Television Senegal -RTS, is giving biased coverage to the campaigns and favouring the YES team. This continues despite warnings from the National Audio-visual Council Regulation –CNRA.


By Abdou Salam THIAM.

Senior Campaigner for Strategy and Policy Influencing –NIYEL


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