Ousmane Sonko, Senegal’s top opposition leader presidential application rejected


On Friday, the leading opposition figure in Senegal faced significant setbacks in his bid to run for the presidency. The highest court affirmed his defamation conviction, and the Constitutional Council dismissed his presidential candidacy application, citing its incompleteness while Sonko’s lawyer accuses them of “flagrant violation of the law” by reviewing the application without his representative present.

Ousmane Sonko’s bid to contest the presidency faced severe setbacks as his application at the council was rejected, allegedly without his representative, violating the law, according to his lawyer, Ciré Cledor Ly. The government’s purported intention to invalidate Sonko’s candidacy was emphasized, marking a significant blow to his presidential aspirations.

The council’s decision unfolded shortly after the Supreme Court dismissed the jailed opposition leader’s appeal regarding his defamation conviction, stemming from a lawsuit filed by a government minister.

This trial marked the latest chapter in an extended legal battle involving multiple charges, with Sonko contending that these legal maneuvers were aimed at thwarting his presidential ambitions in the upcoming February elections.

Characterizing the trial as the final opportunity, Sonko’s lawyer, Khoureychi Ba, acknowledged the success of Mr. Sonko’s opponents in eliminating him from the presidential race scheduled for February 25.

Sonko, who secured the third position in the 2019 presidential election, is widely perceived as the primary challenger to President Macky Sall’s ruling party. Sall, influenced by months of protests by Sonko’s supporters, decided against seeking a third term in office.

While the Constitutional Council’s decision is unrelated to Sonko’s defamation conviction, it holds sway over all candidacies, including that of the opposition leader. According to Senegal’s electoral code, a defamation conviction renders one ineligible for a presidential race.

Currently incarcerated on a separate charge, Sonko will continue to face the six-month suspended prison sentence handed down in the defamation case last year.

El-Hadji Diouf, representing Mame Mbaye Niang, the minister who filed the defamation suit, hailed Friday’s ruling as a “big, important win.” The minister’s lawyers celebrated the upholding of the six-month suspended prison sentence.

Sonko’s presidential bid has been embroiled in a protracted legal battle since he faced rape allegations in 2021. Although acquitted of rape charges in June, he was convicted of corrupting youth and sentenced to two years in prison, sparking deadly protests nationwide. In late July, Senegalese authorities dissolved Sonko’s political party and detained him.

Overcoming a legal hurdle in December that initially barred him from the presidential race, Sonko submitted his candidacy before the December 26 deadline.

The announcement of eligible candidates is expected in the first two weeks of January, with the campaign season commencing the following month.