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Senegal court bars 2 opposition leaders from presidential vote

The seven-member court barred, as expected, former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and ex-minister Karim Wade because of convictions for misuse of public funds.

Senegal's opposition demonstrators hold pictures of the Mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall and of former minister Karim Wade during a march to demand transparency in the 2019 elections, in Dakar, on 28 December 2018. Picture: AFP

DAKAR - Senegal's Constitutional Court on Monday authorised five candidates, including head of state Macky Sall, to contest presidential elections next month but blocked two prominent opposition figures.

The seven-member court barred, as expected, former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and ex-minister Karim Wade because of convictions for misuse of public funds.

The four other candidates in the 24 February vote will be a rising opposition MP, Ousmane Sonko; former prime minister Idrissa Seck; Madicke Niang, an associate of former president Abdoulaye Wade; and El Hadji Sall, of the Unity and Assembly Party (PUR).

The list published on Monday was provisional, and candidates have until 20 January to file any appeal.

President Sall, 57, who is not related to the two other men of the same name, was elected in 2012, taking the helm of one of West Africa's most prosperous and stable countries.

The former French colony is seen as a model of democracy in the region, having never experienced a coup d'etat and successfully staging peaceful transfers of power in 2000 and 2012.

Amnesty International's regional director, Alioune Tine, said the list issued by the Constitutional Court was "hardly a surprise" but still posed "an enormous risk" for Senegal's credentials.

FAIRNESS OF TRIALS QUESTIONED

International and regional organisations as well as human rights groups have questioned the fairness of some trials -- notably those of Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall.

Thousands of supporters of both politicians have staged protests in recent months calling for fair and transparent elections while challenging the impartiality of the justice and interior ministries.

Khalifa Sall, 63, one of Senegal's most popular politicians, was handed a five-year jail term last March for fraudulent use of public funds, a conviction that he said was politically motivated. He appealed it unsuccessfully.

A dissident member of the Socialist Party, Sall began his political activism at the age of 11.

He went on to hold various ministerial portfolios before being elected mayor of the capital in 2009 and re-elected in 2014, a position that catapulted him to nationwide prominence.

Karim Wade, 50, was widely seen as being groomed to succeed his father, former president Wade.

Paris-educated, he served as minister of state for international cooperation from 2009 to 2012.

In 2015, shortly after his father's party, the centrist Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), designated him its candidate for the next presidential elections, Wade was given a six-year jail term for "illegal enrichment" -- amassing a fortune allegedly worth at least $204 million.

President Sall pardoned Wade in 2016, although an enormous fine, the equivalent of more than 210 million euros, still stood.

Khalifa Sall's representative, Babacar Thioye Ba, said an appeal would be filed against the decision to bar his candidacy.

"We should now realise, and the Senegalese people along with us, that the time has come to put an end to Macky Sall's abuses," he told AFP.

SALL'S BIG-TICKET PROJECTS

The incumbent says he is confident of winning re-election in the first round set for 24 February.

Adeline Van Houtte of the Economist Intelligence Unit said "potentially the biggest opposition threat could come from Sonko, who makes intensive and efficient use of social media (to promote) a nationalist economic agenda."
Sall will officially launch his campaign in Mbacke, in the centre of the country, on 3 February, culminating in Dakar on 22 February.

He has already been highly visible in the runup to the election, notably attending the inauguration of big-ticket projects.

They include the opening of a new stretch of motorway, the inauguration of a black heritage museum and, on Monday, ceremonies for a fast train line between Dakar and a new town, Diamnadio, being built around 25 kilometres from the capital.

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