Senegal to Vote on Term Limits as President to Continue Rule

  • West African nation may reinstate 5-year term after 2019
  • Civil-society groups say Sall backtracked on campaign pledge

Senegalese President Macky Sall called a referendum next month on reducing presidential term limits and said he will abide by a recommendation that he complete his seven-year mandate.

Voters will decide March 20 whether to reduce the number of years a president can remain in office to five, Sall said in a speech broadcast on state television Tuesday in the capital, Dakar. The country’s Constitutional Council has recommended that his current mandate remain unchanged, he said.

“I intend to abide by the decision of the Constitutional Council,” Sall said. “As a result, the current mandate of the president of the republic will end in 2019.” Sall campaigned in 2012 on a promise to reverse the decision of his predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade, to expand the presidential term to seven years from five.

The move toward shorter term limits stands in contrast to other African nations where leaders are making efforts to extend their time in power, including in Rwanda where citizens voted last year to change the constitution to allow President Paul Kagame to compete for a third term in 2017. ConocoPhillips Inc. and Cairns Energy Plc recently discovered oil off Senegal’s coastline.

“Macky Sall’s 2012 campaign promise to shorten presidential term limits was a symbolic move, meant to signal a shift from the previous administration,” Cailin Birch, a political analyst at the Economist intelligence unit, said in e-mailed comments.

“The greatest risk is that this will weaken his credibility among Senegal’s civil-society groups, who have a proven ability to mobilize a large segment of the electorate,” she said.

Mass Protests

The youth organization Y’en a Marre called on its Facebook page for a boycott of the referendum, saying Sall betrayed those who voted for him. Y’en a Marre was instrumental in mobilizing protests against an attempt by Wade to stay in office for a third term.

Sall’s “popularity has already reached a low point and his party is likely to pay the price in the 2017 parliamentary elections,” Anais De Meulder, Africa analyst at Bath, U.K.-based risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said in e-mailed comments.

Senegal may hold more than a billion barrels of oil resources off its West African coastline, after discoveries by companies including ConocoPhillips Inc. and Cairns Energy Plc, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. The country is also Africa’s biggest groundnut producer, after Nigeria.

In Burkina Faso, mass demonstrations against plans by President Blaise Compaore to stand again in elections after ruling for almost three decades forced him to quit in 2014. Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s disputed re-election in July fueled continuing violence in which at least 400 people have died.

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