The participation of Ousmane Sonko in the upcoming presidential election appears increasingly uncertain. While the Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the candidacy files for the February 25, 2024 election, the country’s main opposition figure had his conviction of 6 months suspended imprisonment and a fine of 305,000 euros for defamation against the Minister of Tourism, Mame Mbaye Niang, confirmed by the Supreme Court, making Ousmane Sonko, in principle, ineligible.
The case dates back to late 2022 when the outspoken leader of the dissolved Patriotes “africains du Sénégal” pour le travail, l’éthique et la fraternité (Pastef) accused Mame Mbaye Niang of being implicated in a report by the Inspectorate General of Finances for mismanagement of a state agricultural program.
On May 8, 2023, the court of appeals sentenced him to 6 months of suspended imprisonment and a fine of 305,000 euros for defamation. This sentence was confirmed yesterday by the Supreme Court after lengthy debates that lasted nearly 12 hours.
The first consequence is that this decision by the highest court in the country is final and cannot be subject to appeal. The second consequence is the ineligibility of Ousmane Sonko since, according to the Senegalese electoral code, individuals sentenced to a suspended sentence of less than or equal to 6 months are ineligible for 5 years.
Attempts by the opposition’s lawyers to argue the unconstitutionality of this article of the Senegalese penal code, which punishes defamation against a government authority, have therefore not succeeded.
“The opponents of Mr. Sonko have achieved the goal of eliminating him from the presidential race,” reacted Maître Cheikh Khoureyssi Ba, one of the 13 lawyers for the opposition, very disappointed the day before. But another lawyer for Ousmane Sonko believes it is too early to declare the mayor of Ziguinchor out of the race.
Maître Ciré Cledor Ly invokes Article 34 of the electoral code, according to which the jurisdiction responsible for Ousmane Sonko’s registration on the electoral lists must expressly indicate the deprivation of the opposition leader’s voter status.
In other words, according to this argument, this removal must be formally enacted by a court of law. However, two weeks before the definitive publication of the list of presidential candidates, is there enough time for this?
In the end, it will probably be up to the Constitutional Court to settle this interminable political-judicial saga. The court is currently reviewing the 93 candidacy files for the February 25 presidential election. It is expected to rule today on the validity of the endorsements for the leader of the Pastef and indicate whether his candidacy file is complete. The Constitutional Court will also publish the final list of candidates on January 20.