Senegal President Macky Sall in a speech on Monday said he would not run for reelection next year, thus ending speculation that he would seek a third term.
His critics said it would have been illegal for him to seek a third term.
Rumours that Sall would try to extend his stay in power have fuelled bouts of unrest since 2021, in which dozens have been killed, shaking Senegal’s reputation for calm in a restive region.
“There has been much speculation and commentary on my eventual candidature in this election,” Sall said in a televised speech.
“The 2019 term was my second and last term.”
“My decision, carefully considered… is not to run as a candidate in the upcoming election on Feb. 25, 2024.
“And this, even though the constitution grants me the right,” he said.
Sall’s announcement will likely quell fears of a democratic backslide in Senegal.
Some had worried he would follow other regional leaders, including in Ivory Coast and Togo, who used changes to the constitution as an excuse to reset their mandate and extend their hold on power.
Regional leaders including the president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, Guinea Bissau’s Umaro Sissoco Embalo and the African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, praised Sall’s decision.
Bazoum added that it will ease tensions.
Sall’s decision will trigger a search for a successor to lead the ruling party just months before the February polls.
It is unclear who will run for many of the main parties.
Supporters at his party headquarters in an upscale neighbourhood in the capital reacted differently, on Monday evening, after Sall’s speech. Some applauded, while others cried.
“That’s his choice, and he is our leader. We accept his decision and we will support whoever he designates,” said a female supporter in tears.
The sentencing of popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to two years in jail sparked unrest last month.
Court sentenced Sonko on charges stemming from an alleged rape – accusations he denies.
He said the allegation was politically motivated to stop him from running in the elections.
Rioters, angered by what they saw as Sall’s serial sidelining of opponents, torched buildings and vehicles.
They also threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas.
At least 16 people died in the clashes, some of whose relatives said security forces opened fire with live rounds. (Reuters)