Senegal council rejects opposition leader's presidential bid

Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko addresses journalists in Dakar, Senegal, on March 8, 2021. [AP photo]

Senegal's Constitutional Council on Friday rejected jailed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko's candidacy for next month's presidential vote, his lawyer said.

The 49-year-old Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election, has been at the center of a bitter stand-off with the state for more than two years.

Sonko's lawyer, Cire Cledor Ly, said the candidacy was rejected on the grounds that the application was incomplete.

"When we entered, (Council) President Badio Camara immediately notified us that (Sonko's) file was incomplete," he said.

More than 90 candidates have put their names forward to the Constitutional Council, which is to announce the list of presidential contenders on January 20.

President Macky Sall in July announced that he would not seek a third term in the February 25 poll, handpicking his prime minister, Amadou Ba, as his coalition's presidential candidate.

Sonko filed his candidacy with the Constitutional Council in December despite the state's refusal to provide him with the documents needed to run.

They argued that Sonko had been removed from the electoral register after he was sentenced in June to two years in prison for morally corrupting a young person.

Sonko's lawyers had said they would file his candidacy anyway.

The opposition figure has generated a passionate following among Senegal's disaffected youth, striking a chord with his pan-Africanist rhetoric and tough stance on former colonial power France.

On Friday, Sonko's lawyer said the Constitutional Council president told him that "the files, the accompanying letters and the attached documents were received and checked by the commission, which concluded that one document was missing, and that the candidacy file was incomplete."

Ly told AFP that the Constitutional Council had not informed Sonko's legal team what document was missing.

The lawyer denounced the council's decision as an "electoral farce" and suggested he would lodge "the appeals provided for by law."

A day earlier, the opposition figure's chances of running for president had been thrown into jeopardy after the Supreme Court upheld his six-month suspended sentence for defamation.

The court's decision closed the case in which Sonko also had been given a hefty fine for defamation and insults against Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang.

Sonko's camp maintained he still had the right to run in the election since a judge in December ordered that he be reinstated on the electoral roll.

His coalition nominated him as their presidential candidate last Sunday in a meeting that took place behind closed doors after the authorities had banned a public gathering scheduled for the previous day.

On Friday, leaders from Sonko's coalition denounced what they called the complicity of the Constitutional Council in a plot to eliminate him from the ballot.

 The firebrand figurehead has been jailed since the end of July on a string of other charges, including calling for insurrection, conspiracy with terrorist groups and endangering state security.