Debates, Controversies and New Developments – Senegal

DEBATES, CONTROVERSIES AND NEW DEVELOPMENTS

Senegal

The year 2012 was an electoral year in Senegal, with the presidential elections held in February-March and the legislative ones in July. In the wake of these elections, which were well-organized and resulted in democratic changes in the executive and the National Assembly, debates are being conducted about way and means to improve the electoral process. In this debate some major questions can be identified.

Improved use of communication and information technologies when sending results

In order to quickly send the results from the bottom up, and to announce the provisional results a few hours after the closing of polling stations, civil society organizations have invited all leaders of the electoral process, and the Government in particular, to take full advantage of new information and communication technologies. The advocates of this change indicate that the use of ICT would increase transparency, the credibility of elections, and prevent some post-electoral conflicts. It should be noted that during the 2012 national elections, ICT were in fact introduced—albeit in a limited way—to convey electoral results to upper echelons.

Civil society’s role as watchdog in question

The neutrality and credibility of civil society leaders in the electoral process remains a source of controversy in Senegal. Civil society organizations played a major role in the 2012 electoral process, especially in challenging the candidacy of the incumbent president. For the ruling majority, civil society organizations were thus playing a clearly political role, while for the latter they were just fulfilling their civic role of watchdog and early warning mechanism. However, after the elections, many civil society leaders shifted quickly from civic to political engagement. Many joined the new President’s party, as did Abdou Latif Coulibaly and Abdou Aziz Diop (prominent longtime critics of the political system). Other leaders such as Penda M’Bow and Alioune Tine (leading civil rights defenders ) were appointed by the new Head of State to high positions. This shift brings back even more vigorously the debate regarding the true motivations of civil society leaders, especially in electoral periods.

Calls for an institution charged with civic education

Given the high level of abstention and the number of votes that were nullified in the various elections, a number of leaders of the electoral process and some political analysts have raised the debate about the creation of an institution specifically in charge of providing civic education and information to voters. One of the mandates of the institution would be to sensitize people about the importance of voting, registering on electoral lists, and picking up their electoral cards as well as how to cast a valid vote. Beyond the voting issues, the debate also included the possibility of eliminating the electoral card and allow citizens to vote with their national identity cards.

Need to revisit laws governing the media

The electoral issue regarding the decriminalization of media offenses (especially in electoral periods) as suggested in the draft law of the Press Code remains a source of controversy. In fact, in mid 2013 the Press Code was yet to be examined and passed by the National Assembly. The need to update the laws governing the media in electoral periods has been a source of significant debates. The jurisdiction of the National Audiovisual Regulation Council (CNRA) is limited to audiovisual media and print press during the period of the elections. In the light of the spectacular development of online media, it is urgent to widen the CNRA’s mandate to include the regulation of online media in electoral periods.

Controversies regarding the Parity Law

Four years after its implementation, the law of 28 May 2010 regarding the absolute gender parity still reveals a number of odd ends and remains controversial. During the 29 June 2014 local elections, a number political parties faced enormous difficulties to find women candidates when establishing their lists. Coupled with this situation are the controversies over the implementation of the parity law in certain religious cities. This is the case in Touba (the stronghold of the Mouride brotherhood) where Khalifales authorities refused to comply with the parity law on the list of 100 councilors for the local elections in the constituency of Touba. Against all odds and despite pressures from organizations defending women’s rights, the administrative authority has not taken the option to declare inadmissible a list that does not comply with the parity law.

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