The Electoral System
Senegal’s political system
After gaining independence from France, in 1960, Senegal briefly experienced a parliamentarian regime (1960-1962). Following the December 1962 political crisis that opposed the head of state, Leopold Sédar Senghor, to the President of the Council (head of government), Mamadou Dia, a conflict over prerogatives at the highest levels of the state, Senegal adopted a new Constitution (Law 63-22 of March 7, 1963). The new Constitution created post-independent Senegal’s second republic and established a shift from a parliamentarian regime to a presidential one, indeed a very strong presidential regime with a President of the Republic who is the epicenter of the executive branch.
Senegal was one the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to organize a multi-party presidential election (1978), before the wave of democratic transitions in the 1990s. Senegalese exceptionalism in this regard was maintained by the regular organization of presidential and legislative elections, sometimes marred by violence, but which never really called into question the stability of the country’s institutions.
Senegal’s electoral system
Senegalese presidential elections are organized through a majority system, with run off. The president is elected by universal direct suffrage. The term of office is for seven years, renewable once (the term was reduced to five years in 2001 and changed again to seven years in October 2008). The current Head of State, Macky Sall, has repeatedly reiterated his electoral promise to reduce the term to five years and enforce it immediately, although he was himself elected for a seven year term in 2012.
Senegal’s Parliament has also become unicameral, following the elimination of the Senate, for the second time, in 2012 (it was restored in 2007 before the most recent elimination in 2012). The 2012 elimination of the Senate was declared following the severe flooding that affected the country that year and a vast majority of people expressing their rejection of the need for a second chamber. The current parliament thus consists of the National Assembly, with 150 members elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term. For the first time in the history of this institution, an absolute parity between men and women was instituted during the July 1, 2012 legislative elections.
Candidates for legislative elections must be at least 25 years old. It should also be noted that lists of independent candidates are authorized to compete (Provision LO.145 of the Electoral Code). The 150 members of the National Assembly are elected nation-wide in a mixed legislative election – consisting of a simple majority (plurality) winner-takes-all system coupled with a proportional representation system. 90 out of the 150 members of the National Assembly are elected through the majority system in the country’s 45 electoral constituencies. Provision LO.147 of the Electoral Code states that the largest departments (administrative units below the Region) elect 7 members while those with the lowest representation elect at least one member. For example, the departments of Dakar and Pikine elect respectively 7 and 6 members while the departments of Fatick, Kanel, Matam, Linguère and Guediawaye are each represented by two members. The main criterion is demography, in other words, the more densely populated departments elect more representatives. As for the majority system, the list of candidates that obtains most votes cast in a department obtains all the seats allocated, although its majority may be a relative one (that is, a plurality). The proportional representation part of the system elects involves 60 seats. For this voting system, a national quota is determined by dividing the number of valid ballots cast by the number of seats to be filled. Based on the total number of valid ballots cast, candidates are elected from the relevant lists in proportion to the number of quotas filled. The greatest remainder principle is applied for the allocation of the remaining seats among the lists of remaining candidates who do not have a number of votes equivalent to the national quota. The spirit of the greatest remainder option is to allow even lists which have not received the quota to be allocated a seat, and thus to allow wide representation in the National Assembly.
The proportional representation system is also used for local elections. Each list of candidates for the regional, municipal and local councils will be represented in proportion to their relative electoral weight. In other words, there is a local quota obtained by dividing the number of valid votes cast divided by the number of seats to be filled in local councils. Any time the local quota can be deducted from the number of valid votes obtained by a list, its candidates will be elected as local counselors. Once the regional, municipal or rural councils are sworn in, councilors elect their officers under the supervision of the Prefect, the state authority who has administrative jurisdiction in the area. Regarding electoral constituencies for local elections, there are 14 administrative Regions, 45 Departments, 64 municipalities (communes), over 100 sub-municipalities (arrondissements) and over 350 rural districts (communautés rurales) Since 1990, the Senegalese electoral system has experienced major changes. As early as 1992, to put an end to electoral conflicts, Senegal adopted a new and consensual electoral code brokered by President Kéba Mbaye (former President of the Constitutional Court) and which was partially responsible for allowing the democratic change of government in 2000. In 1998, the number of members of the National Assembly was increased from 120 to 140; it was subsequently again reduced to 120, in 2001, before being increased again to 150 in the legislature of June 3, 2007. Since 1993, presidential and legislative elections have been organized on separate dates. Given the low turnover noted in the 2012 legislative elections (36.67%), many have expressed the view that national elections, (presidential and legislative) should be held on the same date, as it used to be in the past. However, others have argued that for the transparency of the democratic process and the respect of the electoral choice of citizens, a separation of national elections is a democratic imperative. Finally, there are many academics, political actors and civil society activists who believe that the Senegalese electoral system is exhausted and needs to be reformed, especially for legislative elections. It is argued that in order to increase the legitimacy of the representatives of the people, the majoritarian part of the legislative system should not be a first-pass-the-post system, but should include a run off. In addition, some argue that the proportional system and the system of national lists should be eliminated to avoid having a parliament totally subservient to the executive branch with “illegitimate” members of parliament.
More recently, a new electoral code concerning local elections was adopted, following an administrative reform known as “Act 3 de la decentralisation” that has deeply changed the organization of territorial and local administration. Indeed, the Law 2013-10 of 28 December 2013 establishing the General Code for local authorities suppressed the region, the communal district, and the rural community. These were replaced by two types of constituencies: the department and the commune. Subsequently, the electoral code was adjusted to include the new provisions resulting from the new territorial organization before the 29 June 2014 local elections. Despite disparagements, members of the parliament overwhelmingly voted the draft electoral law (Law 2014-18 of 15 April 2014) on April 2014, repealing and replacing the previous law (Law 2012-01 of January 3, 2012 regarding the electoral code). The new electoral code maintains the mixed electoral system while setting the number of departmental councilors at 45% for the majority aspect of the system and 55% for the proportional aspect. Further amendments were introduced, including the provision of a criminal record to the elected candidates, the reduction of the deadlines for submission of candidatures before the election to 60 days (instead of 80 days), and the publication of the lists of candidates by the administrative authority within 53 days.
Useful links and documentary resources
- Official website of the National Assembly: http://www.assemblee-nationale.sn/
- Official website of Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA): http://www.cena.sn/spip/index.php?lang=fr
- The Constitution of the Republic of Senegal, 2001: http://www.gouv.sn/IMG/pdf/Constitution.pdf
- The electoral code of Senegal (Loi n° 2012-01 abrogeant et remplaçant la loi n° 92-16 du 07 février 1992 relative au Code électoral) : http://www.elections2012.sn/images/stories/CE2012.pdf
- Loi No 2005-07 portant création de la Commission Electorale Nationale Autonome, C.E.N.A : http://www.cena.sn/spip/spip.php?article2&lang=fr
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