Senegal president requests amnesty that could pave way for challengers in 2024

FILE PHOTO: Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan

By Diadie Ba

DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal's President Macky Sall has asked the justice ministry to look into an amnesty scheme that could allow two of his biggest political opponents who were sentenced on graft charges to regain their voting rights and potentially run in the next presidential election in 2024.

Sall instructed the justice minister during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening "to examine, as soon as possible, the possibilities and the appropriate scheme of amnesty for people who have lost their voting rights," minutes of the meeting showed.

He said his aim was to ease political tensions which have heated up in recent months, culminating in a tense legislative election and scuffles in parliament, but analysts said the move could be a ploy to divide the opposition ahead of the 2024 poll.

Two of Senegal's best known opposition figures, former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall, and Karim Wade, the son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, were jailed on corruption charges in 2018 and 2015 respectively.

Both have been released but were barred from running in the 2019 election, which Sall won, and many have claimed the charges against them were politically motivated.

Since then another firebrand opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, has risen to prominence and mobilised large protests against the ruling party, which lost its absolute majority in parliament to an allied opposition coalition last month.

"President Macky Sall has to break this unity which is dangerous for him. Three competing (parties) would be easier to confront than a single bloc," said political analyst Mame Less Camara.

"With the possibility of the return of Karim and Khalifa, the hegemony of Sonko and Pastef (Sonko's party) will necessarily be called into question," said Mamadou Sy Albert, another political analyst.

Sall has avoided saying whether he plans to run himself in the 2024 election, which is part of what has fuelled protests in the last year. He has already served two terms, the constitutional limit, but other West African presidents have changed their constitutions in order to run a third time.

(Reporting by Diadie Ba; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Bate Felix and Chizu Nomiyama)