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Senegal Presidential Hopeful Says He’s the Man to Beat in 2024

(Bloomberg) -- Senegal’s main opposition leader reasserted his presidential ambitions months after facing house arrest and getting disqualified from legislative elections.

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“There’s no one better placed to win the 2024 elections than me,” Ousmane Sonko, from the main opposition coalition, Yewwi Askan Wi, told reporters Thursday in Wolof. “I’m the last man standing” out of President Macky Sall’s key challengers in 2019, he said in the capital, Dakar.

The 48-year-old former tax inspector came third with just 16% of votes in 2019. Sall secured his re-election with 58% and his closest rival, Idrissa Seck, with 21% of votes, is now part of his administration.

Sonko’s comments underscore his growing popularity amid speculation that Sall, 60, may consider running for a third term when his current mandate expires in 2024. The incumbent’s refusal to confirm or deny a bid has raised concern he could follow in the footsteps of Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara and Alpha Conde in neighboring Guinea, both of whom sought extra-constitutional third terms in 2020.

An improved showing at last month’s legislative polls has galvanized Senegal’s political opposition.

Sonko’s Yewwi Askan Wi got 56 seats and another opposition bloc affiliated with former President Abdoulaye Wade got 24, adding up to 80 main opposition victories in the 165-seat chamber. While Sall’s ruling coalition, Benno Bokk Yakaar, still won more seats, 82, it was denied the parliamentary majority it’s enjoyed since its formation in 2012. BBY now plans to push its legislative agenda by allying itself with three parliamentarians outside the main opposition groups.

“The ruling coalition met a historical defeat at the legislative elections,” said Sonko, who was barred from running over a technicality. “It’s like nothing we’ve seen.”

Since last year, political unrest has undermined Senegal’s reputation as a bastion of stability in West Africa.

Sonko’s arrest on rape allegations in March 2021 triggered a first wave of protests that left at least eight people dead. His accuser, a beauty salon employee, was forced into hiding and Sonko has denied any wrongdoing. He’s said the charges are bogus and aimed at derailing his political career.

Protests erupted again last month after the Yewwi Askan Wi coalition’s main legislative candidates, including Sonko, were disqualified after the Constitutional Council ruled that the repetition of some names invalidated the list. Police responded by cordoning off the public square where protesters planned to gather and temporarily circling Sonko’s home.

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