For two weeks, his supporters began to dream again of their leader’s candidacy for the presidential election on February 25. But a new obstacle arose on Thursday, January 4, in the path of the country’s main opponent. In an endless political-judicial drama, the Senegalese Supreme Court confirmed Ousmane Sonko’s six-month suspended prison sentence and 200 million CFA francs (305,000 euros) in damages.

The sentence was handed down on appeal in May 2023 in a case of “defamation, insults and forgery” between the thunderous leader of the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (Pastef) party, dissolved in July , to the Minister of Tourism Mame Mbaye Niang. Ousmane Sonko accused him at the end of 2022 of having been singled out by a report from the general inspectorate of finances for management errors when he was coordinating a state agricultural program.

Two weeks before the final publication of the list of presidential candidates, the Supreme Court’s decision seriously compromises the eligibility of the opponent in detention since July 29 for several charges, including “calling for insurrection”. According to the Electoral Code, people sentenced to a suspended sentence of less than or equal to six months are ineligible for a period of five years.

“He won’t fall.”

“Mr. Sonko’s opponents have succeeded in the objective of eliminating him from the presidential election,” reacted, with a defeated expression, Me Cheikh Khoureychi Ba, member of the opponent’s collective of lawyers at the end of a long hearing which ended late Thursday night. “Very disappointed” with the court decision, Me Ciré Clédor Ly denounced “a state conspiracy”, “but [Ousmane Sonko] will not fall”, declared the lawyer who considers the questioning of the eligibility of his client. He invokes a provision of the Electoral Code to consider that the trial court should expressly indicate the forfeiture of Ousmane Sonko’s voter status.

Me Al-Hadj Diouf, the representative of Mame Mbaye Niang, for his part could not hide his satisfaction upon reading the decision of the judges of the Supreme Court. “We have just recorded a great and important victory,” he said.

Ousmane Sonko’s defense, however, appeared confident before this blow. “Let the Senegalese have peace of mind,” declared Al-Malick Ndiaye, Pastef’s secretary general for communications, a few days ago in an interview with private media. The lawyers of the main Senegalese opponent throughout their pleading mentioned the unconstitutionality of an article of the Senegalese Penal Code which punishes defamation against a government authority. They thus hoped to delay the Supreme Court’s verdict so that it would be given after the question of their client’s candidacy for the presidential election had been decided.

« Plans B »

The Constitutional Council is currently studying the files of the 93 candidates for the February 25 election. It must rule on Friday on the validity of the sponsorships of the leader of Pastef and indicate whether his application file is complete before studying it in substance and publishing the final list of candidates no later than January 20.

If it will not definitively lift the suspense over the opponent’s chances of participating in the ballot, this examination will give a first indication. Ousmane Sonko submitted a candidacy file at the last minute after a court decision handed down in mid-December which ordered his re-registration on the electoral lists. But this file does not contain any official sponsorship form or certificate for the deposit. Instead, his camp attached a list of sponsors, a receipt for deposit of the deposit and bailiff’s reports of the respective refusals of the General Directorate of Elections and the Caisse des Dépôts and consignment to give them these theoretically essential documents to be a candidate.

Despite the uncertainties weighing on his ability to be a candidate, Ousmane Sonko was invested on Sunday by his coalition in a private place, behind closed doors, after the authorities banned the public meeting planned for Saturday. To face Prime Minister Amadou Ba, the majority candidate of President Macky Sall, the ex-Pastef has planned “plans B”. The party presented the candidacy of its number two, Bassirou Diomaye Faye. He also supports the candidacy of Habib Sy, their ally within the Yewwi Askan Wi opposition coalition.