2012 Legislative elections in Senegal
A brief overview by Ndongo Samba Sylla (West Africa Office at Dakar)
Senegal is a small country of West Africa known for its democratic achievements. Dominated by Muslims who represent more than 90% of a population of little more than 13 million, le pays de la Teranga (the country of hospitality in Wolof) has preserved traditions of tolerance, religious pluralism and peace.
1. Type of elections
On March 25th 2012, Macky Sall under the coalition Benno Bokk Yaakaar (Unite to Share Hope Together) has defeated the incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade. During the second round of the presidential elections, BBY has collected 65.8% of the suffrages.
Initially scheduled for June, the legislative elections have been delayed until July.
With the restoration of a Senate, an institution created for the first time in 1998 before its removal in 2001, the Senegalese Parliament is bicameral since 2007. The Senate has currently 100 members: 65 are nominated by the President; 35 are elected through a restricted suffrage.
On July 1st, Senegalese citizens had to go to the polls to renew the National Assembly, an institution composed of 150 members and dominated significantly by the Parti Démocratique Sénégalais (PDS) of Wade from 2000 to 2012.
Ministry Parliaments are elected by universal suffrage for a mandate of five years. 90 MPs are elected at the county (“départment”) level according to a one-round majority system. 60 MPs are elected on a national list according to a proportional system. With the instauration of the law on gender parity, all lists must be equally composed of men and women.
2. Short evaluation of the political situation related to the elections
Before the election of Macky Sall, the BBY coalition has pledged that it would review the financial management of the former regime. It has pledged to answer the popular demand regarding the “moralization” and “sanitization” of the political sphere. Senegalese political elites are indeed perceived as corrupt and driven only by their personal interests. Many “politicians” have amassed amazing amounts of wealth in a short span of time. Senegalese people have expressed the wish to be edified about those suspect fortunes. That’s why, after the arrival of Macky Sall at the head of the State, the political debate has focused essentially on the “audit” issue.
The “audit” issue is very controversial. Many people in the political opposition have interpreted the audits as an exercise of witch-hunting. They accuse Sall of trying to liquidate them. Their basic argument is that Sall has been a member of the “liberal regime” for eight years. So, if he were consequent, he would try to audit the whole period (2000-2012) instead of focusing on the period where he was no longer with Wade (starting from 2008). Opponents to Sall have also raised some doubts regarding the origins of his wealth which according to some is far superior to the sum of all the remunerations he had received during his political career.
Sall has made a public statement about his wealth. By this act, he wanted to give the example of a new kind of leadership based on transparency and honesty. Despite this elegant gesture, many people are still wondering how he managed to build a patrimony worth at least 3 billion FCFA (4.5 million euros). However, despite all insinuations, no proof has been given yet against Sall. By contrast, many people belonging to the former regime have been heard by judiciary authorities, sometimes they have been brought by muscled methods. Some have been sent to jail. The question everybody is asking is whether Sall will dare “attack” the most important figures of the former regime. The case of Karim Wade, the son of President Wade, seems to be particularly tough and delicate. Karim was in fact the n°2 of the liberal regime and many voices demand an audit of his management of public funds.
This focus on judiciary certainly justifies the poor debate that existed among the political class. There was nothing else to talk about. The party in power and his allies presented themselves as “candidates for rupture”. They asked electors to give them a parliamentary majority in order for them to be able to implement their political agenda and continue the audits they started. Meanwhile, the PDS following his presidential debacle has been confronted with internal dissent. Former members led by Pape Diop, the former president of the Senate, have created Benno Bokk Guiss Guiss (Unite to Share the same perspective).
3. Overview of the election result:
In 2012, 173 political parties could be numbered. These legislative elections have recorded the participation of some 24 parties and coalitions of parties. No surprise was to be expected. In Senegal, the party in power has always obtained at least 2/3 of all the seats of the National Assembly. So, the large victory of Benno Bokk Yaakaar was predictable. Benno Bokk Yaakaar is initially a circumstantial alliance made between the 13 presidential candidates in order to defeat Wade on the second round. It comprises the four biggest political parties except PDS. As this coalition has been maintained for the legislative elections, and taking into account the division inside PDS and the nature of the electoral system (majority rule in the county level and proportionality in the national level), these elections were pure formalities.
The only uncertainty concerned the turnout. Many sensed that it would be below the number recorded for the presidential elections (55% in the second round). But how low would it be, that was the question. Political actors feared a low turnout because it would give a blow to the legitimacy and the popularity of the National Assembly.
In fact, the winner of the 2012 legislative elections is a winner that does not count: Abstentionism. Out of 5,368,783 registered voters, only 1,961,776 have actually voted; which gives a turnout of 36.5%. What are the reasons behind this high level of abstentionism? In 2007, the turnout was 34%. It was then explained as the result of the boycott of the opposition. Five years later, with no boycott, the turnout is barely superior. Some experts explain this low popular participation in numerous terms: the deficit of legitimacy of the political class which is perceived negatively by the public opinion; the poor level of the electoral debate; contrarily to presidential elections, citizens find legislative elections less important; the results seemed predictable because of the “unfair” and monopolistic size of BBY; Macky Sall has not yet delivered on his promises to significantly lower the price of basic goods consumed by households.
All these explanations are certainly valid. But we can give a more general explanation: Senegalese people, like many people in “representative democracies” are dissatisfied with the existing political system. They go to vote massively when they sense that the nation is in danger (like in February and March 2012). When they feel that the vote is the only way to guarantee a peaceful transition of sovereign power, they mobilize to vote. Otherwise, politics is not their business because “politicians” are far away from their preoccupations. In some way, this high level of abstentionism is the sign that the political sphere has emancipated itself from the social sphere.
BBY has triumphed without glory. As a coalition of coalitions, it has obtained 119 seats: 61 for APR (Alliance pour la République – the party of Sall); 18 for Benno Siggil Senegal (Unite to Redress Senegal - Moustapha Niasse); 17 for Benno Ak Tanor – (Together with Tanor; Ousmane Tanor Dieng); 10 for Rewmi (The republic - Idrissa Seck). Some commentators are speculating about the fact that Sall could have some difficulty in forming a majority at the National Assembly. He could be held “hostage” by his allies as 61 seats is not enough when it comes to secure a durable majority.
31 seats only had accrued to the remaining candidates. With 9 seats, PDS will lead the opposition with her rival Benno Bokk Guiss Guiss (4). These results signal the collapse of the Wade era. Five years ago, the PDS had 131 seats at the National Assembly.
The electoral surprise came from what has been equivocally called “religious parties”. Bes Du Niak (The day will come) of Mansour Sy Djamil has obtained 4 seats. MRDS (Mouvement de la Réforme pour le Développement Social) and PVD (Parti pour la vérité et le développement) have two seats each.
Regarding the gender composition of the National Assembly, 63 women will feature alongside 87 men.
4. First conclusions for the left
Can we still talk about a “left” or a “right” wing in Senegal? The question needs to be addressed. Traditional leftist parties have been absorbed in coalitions that have been absorbed by other coalitions whose main characteristic is their political eclecticism. For example, the Parti pour l’Indépendance et le Travail (PIT) and LD/MPT (Ligue Démocratique/Mouvement pour le Parti du Travail) have allied themselves with the Alliance des Forces du Progrès of Moustapha Niasse within the framework of Benno Siggil Senegal. BSS and the Parti Socialiste which are normally catalogued ‘left’ are allies of the Alliance Pour la République of Macky Sall and many other parties in BBY. So, it appears clearly that ideology does no longer structure the functioning of political parties and their positioning in the political field if ever it did. Instead, we have a model of “cartel politics”. The objective is political power for the sake of political power. As nobody wants to lose its share of the political power, the political sphere looks like more and more to a market. Murgers and acquisitions are used by political actors in order to determine who should get what. The BBY coalition is the most eloquent example of this cartel politics. In the sake of democracy, it had killed real democratic pluralism. The result is that the so-called democracy is a mixt of demagogy, aristocracy (of some party leaders) and oligarchy.
Traditional leftist parties have certainly made a huge loss by accepting to be diluted in motley coalitions. In some way, the “religious parties” could be seen as trying to fill the hole left open by them. For some people, these emerging parties represent possible alternatives in the face of “politicians” coming from big parties who are perceived as greedy and selfish.
Though a religious man, Mansour Sy Djamil, the leader of Bes Du Niak believes in socialist ideas. In the past, he had himself introduced many political leaders to Marxism-Leninism. His n°2 is a Christian woman, Hélène Tine, who departed lately from Moustapha Niasse. Hence, it is erroneous and superficial to label this party as “religious”. The example of Sy could not certainly be extrapolated to a party like PVD. Its leader Serigne Modou Kara Mbacké and his wife will probably occupy the two seats just won.
For now, there can be no definitive conclusions regarding the so-called “religious parties”. Is their emergence due to cyclical and accidental circumstances? Does it rather reflect a growing disenchantment of some category of electors who seek new kind of faces and discourses? Only time can tell.
Today, the main question is how long the coalition BBY will last. In 2000, when Wade has arrived to power thanks to the electorate of Niasse, their collaboration was very short. Wade had liquidated his former allies in order to strengthen his own party. There are some chances that Sall will follow the footsteps of Wade. Otherwise, this would mean that his allies will govern at his place – or he will share the power with them – a scenario which may jeopardize his chances of getting reelected. The next presidential election will take place in 2017. Sall has publicly declared that he will limit the length of the mandate of the President to 5 years instead of 7. It is to be expected by then that some cracks will occur in this circumstantial and strategic alliance.
 For a recent review of the Senegalese political and institutional system, see « Sénégal. Une démocratie « ancienne » en mal de réforme. Rapport sur l’état de la démocratie et de la participation politique au Sénégal », par Professeur Ismaila Madior Fall. Une étude d’AfriMAP et de l’Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) Juin 2012, Open Society Foundations. http://www.osiwa.org/fr/portal/newsroom/332/S%C3%A9n%C3%A9gal-Une-d%C3%A9mocratie-%E2%80%9Cancienne%E2%80%9D-en-mal-de-r%C3%A9forme.htm
 These figures are based on the document published by the Court of Appeal of Dakar.