Senegal’s Presidential Candidates Begin Campaigns Ahead March 24 Election

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Ahead of March 24 elections, presidential candidates in Senegal kicked off their campaigns following weeks of violent protests across the African country after the vote was delayed.

The 19 approved candidates vying for the top job now have a shorter period to rally supporters ahead of the March 24 election, expected to be the most tightly contested race since Senegal gained independence more than six decades ago.

The former mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall, who is running for the fourth time, organized a marching caravan through the streets of the capital to begin his campaign.

The front-runners will likely be former Prime Minister Amadou Ba as the ruling party’s choice, and imprisoned Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a lesser known candidate who gained popularity as the chief of the dissolved PASTEF party.

Diomaye Faye has been behind bars for nearly a year but is due to be released in time for elections after the president passed a decree to exonerate political prisoners.

He has stepped in for opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, also in prison and who has been barred from running.

In June, Sonko was charged with corrupting youth and sentenced to two years in prison. Ruling party candidate Amadou Ba is yet to launch his campaign.

The only woman candidate is Anta Babacar Ngom, the head of Sedima, one of the country’s biggest food companies.

The recent violent protests have also raised concerns for a country that used to be seen as a beacon of democratic stability in West Africa, a region plagued by coups and insecurity.

President Macky Sall, who is prevented from running because of term limits, postponed the election last month, just weeks before it was to take place on Feb. 25.

His announcement that the vote would instead be held 10 months from now plunged Senegal into chaos as opposition protests filled the streets.

Senegal’s highest election authority, the Constitutional Council, rejected Sall’s postponement and ordered the government to set a new date as soon as possible.

Government spokesman Abdou Karim Fofana earlier this week announced March 24 as the new date.

Most of the campaign ahead and the vote itself will take place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Senegal has a majority Muslim population.