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Senegal's presidential election is delayed amid unrest

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Senegal is seen as one of the most stable democracies in West Africa, a part of the continent that frequently sees coups and political unrest. That stability was shaken this weekend when the country's president announced a delay in this month's elections. That delay was ratified in Parliament last night amid scenes of chaos. Ayen Deng Bior reports from Dakar.

AYEN DENG BIOR, BYLINE: This is what it sounds like when the rule of law is challenged.

(CROSSTALK)

BIOR: Chaotic scene in Senegal's National Assembly last night. Security officers in bulletproof jackets and helmets marched into the National Assembly and removed opposition members of Parliament, preventing them from casting a vote that would postpone the presidential elections.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIOR: It all started unraveling days before with a surprise address to the nation from President Macky Sall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT MACKY SALL: (Non-English language spoken).

BIOR: "The elections, which were due to take place on February 25, are postponed indefinitely," he told the country. Sall blamed the decision on discrepancies in the final candidate list and corruption, claiming he wanted to engage in a national dialogue to create conditions for a free and fair election. But that's not how the street reacted. Hundreds of people clashed with police over the weekend, furious with Sall's decision. Heavily militarized police fired tear gas into the crowds. By Monday, the government had shut down the cellular data in some parts of the country and closed a private TV station. Dozens of police in riot gear were stationed around the capital, with a large concentration outside the National Assembly.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in non-English language).

BIOR: None of this unrest has come out of the blue. In the past two years, there have been a growing number of violent protests, a culmination of the increasing political tensions within the country, with some political parties claiming the president was actively trying to exclude their leaders from the election.

PAPE SENE: (Non-English language spoken).

BIOR: Taxi driver Pape Sene speaks for many Senegalese by expressing his shock. "It's the first time that elections have been postponed," he says. "To decide like this overnight can only lead to confusion."

IBRAHIMA KANE: This crisis is not just a political crisis, it's a constitutional crisis.

BIOR: Ibrahima Kane is a political analyst based in Dakar.

KANE: Today I can't tell you that we are under rule of law. I can't tell you because all the laws that we have, they are interpreted by the current government in the way that they want.

BIOR: For now, Dakar appears to be returning to normal. Buses hum along the corniche by the sea, and pedestrians are hustling on to their next destination. But underneath all this, the tensions remain. Cellular service is still turned off, and there's a heavy police presence in many of the neighborhoods here in the capital. This once quiet corner of West Africa is bracing for the next signs of chaos.

For NPR News, I'm Ayen Deng Bior in Dakar.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUGEES SONG, "READY OR NOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayen Bior
Ayen Deng Bior is a producer at NPR's flagship evening news program, All Things Considered. She helps shape the sound of the daily shows by contributing story ideas, writing scripts and cutting tape. Her work at NPR has taken her to Warsaw, Poland, where she heard from refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. She has spoken to people in Saint-Louis, Senegal, who are grappling with rising seas. Before NPR, Bior wore many hats at the Voice of America's English to Africa service where she worked in radio, television and digital. Bior began her career reporting on the revolution in Sudan, the developing state of affairs in South Sudan and the experiences of women behind the headlines in both countries. In her spare time, Bior loves to kayak, read and bird watch.