Senegalese President Macky Sall has announced that he will step down at the end of his two-term term, apparently saving his country from a serious crisis.
Political analyst Alyun Thein likened the decision to “setting off a bomb” and suggested that prominent opposition politician Osman Sonko would spark fresh public protests if Mr Sal ran for a controversial third term.
The 61-year-old president’s announcement during his highly-anticipated televised address on Monday night surprised many.
Momentum was building for re-election in the ruling party, with most public representatives – including legislators and mayors – asking him to lead them into next year’s elections.
Many of his supporters near the presidential palace in the capital, Dakar, were in tears when the decision was announced.
“I have a clear understanding and recollection of what I have said, written and repeated here and elsewhere, that the term of 2019 is my second and last term in office. I have a code of honor and a sense of historical responsibility that compels me to take it. Stand by my honor and my word,” said Mr Sal.
But critics have a different take, noting that Mr. Sall said “ni oui, ni non” (yes or no) in French by name when asked by reporters shortly after the 2019 election.
This was highly controversial as Senegal’s supreme law – the constitution – prohibits a president from serving more than two terms, but Mr Sall’s camp argued until a few days ago that his first term did not count under the current constitution. He was accepted only in his second term.
Sources close to the president’s palace told the BBC that some of Mr Sall’s advisers – as well as relatives who gained high positions in state-owned companies under the regime – are urging him to be re-elected. They feared a new president would oust them, and they would lose their economic advantage as Senegal’s fledgling oil and gas industry boomed.
For the opposition, Mr Sall and the hangmen, staying in power was less likely, especially as they believed their government was becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Mr. Sonko – who is currently under house arrest – has rallied his mostly young supporters against Mr. Sal in clashes with security forces since March, in which at least 16 people have been killed.
Ahead of Mr Sall’s address, Mr Sonko made a fresh call for “all the people of Senegal to stand up (and) face him” if he were to run for a third term.
Mr. Sall appears to have finally bowed to the pressure, saying he wants to “maintain Senegal’s international image of democracy, stability…”.
His decision is very contrary to the decision of some leaders of the region.
In Ivory Coast, President Alassane Ouattara won a controversial third term in 2022. The election was rejected by the opposition, who argued that his candidacy was unconstitutional.
In Togo, President Faure Nassingbe is serving a fourth term after the constitution was amended and he has dropped the two-term limit.
Against this background, some political analysts believe that Mr. Sal has prevented democracy from moving backwards in his country, including African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki’s decision not to seek a third term.
But Senegal’s former prime minister, Aminata Touré, said Mr Sal had not acted “bravely”.
“He should have said that he will only implement the constitution the minute he is re-elected in 2019. This would have saved the country from the confusion and problems we have been through,” she added.