Senegal’s top opposition leader on Friday, suffered major setbacks in his quest to contest the presidency when a top court upheld the defamation conviction against him and the Constitutional Council rejected his application to be a presidential candidate on the basis that it was incomplete.
Ousmane Sonko ‘s application case at the council was “examined without his representative (in) a flagrant violation of the law” before it was rejected, his lawyer, Ciré Cledor Ly, told reporters. “From the outset, the government has shown its willingness to invalidate Ousmane Sonko’s candidacy.”
The council’s decision came hours after the Supreme Court rejected the jailed opposition leader’s appeal of his conviction for defamation after being sued by a government minister.
The trial was seen as the latest twist in a prolonged legal battle involving several charges which the opposition leader has alleged is to stop his presidential bid in the February elections.
“The trial was the very last chance,” Sonko’s lawyer Khoureychi Ba said of the ruling delivered after a session that started on Thursday. “I realize that Mr. Sonko’s opponents have succeeded in eliminating him from the Feb. 25 presidential election,” Ba said.
Sonko, who finished third in the country’s 2019 presidential election, is widely seen as the main challenger to President Macky Sall’s ruling party. Sall himself ultimately decided not to seek a third term in office after Sonko’s supporters launched months of protests that at times turned deadly.
Although the Constitutional Council’s decision has nothing to do with Sonko’s conviction for defamation, the council has the final say on all the candidacies, including that of the opposition leader. Under Senegal’s electoral code, such a conviction makes one ineligible for a presidential race.
Sonko is currently in prison on a different charge, and will continue to face the six-month suspended prison sentence handed him when he was convicted in the defamation case last year.
El-Hadji Diouf, a lawyer representing Mame Mbaye Niang, the minister who filed the defamation suit against Sonko, celebrated Friday’s ruling as a “big, important win.”
“The minister’s lawyers won on all counts. The six-month suspended prison sentence was upheld. … Senegal’s top opposition leader on Friday, suffered major setbacks in his quest to contest the presidency when a top court upheld the defamation conviction against him and the Constitutional Council rejected his application to be a presidential candidate on the basis that it was incomplete.We are celebrating our victory,” said Diouf.