DAKAR - Just hours before official campaigning was due to start on Sunday, Senegal's President Macky Sall announced the indefinite postponement of a presidential election scheduled for 25 February, provoking anger from opposition figures and a ministerial resignation.
In an address to the nation Saturday, Sall said he had postponed the vote that would have decided his successor because of a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court over the rejection of candidates.
Lawmakers are investigating two Constitutional Council judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned.
"I will begin an open national dialogue to bring together the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election," Sall added, without giving a new date.
Under the country's election code, at least 80 days must pass between the publication of the decree setting the date and the election, so the earliest a vote could now be held is late April.
Just hours after Sall's announcement, Abdou Latif Coulibaly, the secretary general of the government who has acted as its spokesman, announced his resignation.
He was quitting because he wanted to have "full and complete freedom" to defend his political convictions, Coulibaly said in a statement.
This is the first time a Senegalese presidential election has been postponed and adds to the growing political tension in the country.
The West African bloc ECOWAS expressed "concern over the circumstances that have led to the postponement of the elections", calling late Saturday in a post on social media platform X for dialogue and an expedited process to set a new date.
The US State Department also urged Senegal to "swiftly" set a date for a "timely, free and fair election" in a post on X.
"We acknowledge allegations of irregularities, but we are deeply concerned about the disruption to the presidential electoral calendar," the department's Bureau of African Affairs posted.
A November 2023 decree signed by Sall had set the election for 25 February, with 20 candidates in the running but two major opposition figures excluded.
Sall reiterated Saturday that he would not be a candidate.
But one opposition leader, Thierno Alassane Sall, denounced what he called "high treason towards the Republic" in a post on X, and called on "patriots and republicans" to oppose it.
El Malick Ndiaye, former spokesman of a disbanded opposition party once led by the now-jailed Ousmane Sonko, also denounced the decision.
"This is not a delay of the election, but a cancellation pure and simple," he wrote on Facebook.
Another opposition figure, former mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall, called for pro-democratic forces to unite against the decision.
"All of Senegal must stand up," he told journalists. "All democratic political forces and civil society should unite so that this project does not succeed."
On X, Sall, who is not related to the president, denounced "a constitutional coup" by a leader who "dreams of eternity".
President Sall had designated Prime Minister Amadou Ba from his party as his would-be successor after announcing he would not run for a third term.
But with his party split over his candidacy, Ba faced possible defeat in the elections.
The Constitutional Council has excluded dozens of candidates from the vote, including Sonko, who has been jailed since July 2023, and Karim Wade, son of former president Abdoulaye Wade.
Wade's supporters in the National Assembly called for a parliamentary inquiry into the partiality of two judges on the Constitutional Court.
That motion was passed by the Assembly on January 31, with some members of Sall's party supporting it.
Wade had been barred from running because he allegedly also holds French citizenship, a decision he denounced as "scandalous".
On Friday, Rose Wardini, one of only two women on the approved list of candidates, was detained on accusations of having concealed her French citizenship, according to judicial sources.