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Senegal: Proposed New Election Law Sparks Riots in Dakar

Update: President Wade droped the proposed amendment, following riots in Dakar on June 23, 2011.

President of Senegal Abdoulaye Wade‘s proposed amendment to the Constitution – the 17th since his election in 2000 –  in anticipation of the presidential elections of 2012, has made  a lot of Senegalese angry.

The proposal aimed among other things, at the creation of a presidential ticket similar to the United States (US) electoral system, where one votes for a president and vice president [Senegal voters vote directly to elect their president].

It would also allow the election of the president in the first round, with only 25% of the votes. The bill was adopted by the Council of Ministers, but was to be voted by the Senegalese National Assembly on June 23 [all links in French, unless otherwise mentioned].

One of the logos of the movement: "Do not touch my constitution"

One of the logos of the movement: "Do not touch my constitution"

Last straw

For the opposition, this is the last straw. It is seen as a way for the president, leader of the Sopi movement, to be elected for a third term and to impose his son Karim as his successor.

A first spontaneous demonstration of youth was repressed with violence on June 22. Several photos and videos of the protest were published on Seneweb. Among the numerous arrests, members of the online opposition community Y’en a marre (Fed up). bydiogs reported on ground that Member of Parliament (MP) Cheikh Bamba Dieye had chained himself to  the gate of the National Assembly.

Several demonstrations were scheduled for June 23 across Senegal. In Dakar, the main gathering site was the Place Soweto, in front of the National Assembly building, where the reading of the bill was to take place.  The protesters arrived early on June 23 to challenge representatives at their arrival.  At 9:30 am, the first tear gas cannisters were fired. Other demonstrators stormed the grounds of the University Cheikh Anta Diop the same morning.

While protests were heating up in the street, the Net was on fire as well. On Facebook, a new page Touche Pas à Ma Constitution (Do not touch my Constitution), launched by an Internet user whose nickname is Subcomandante Kocc Barma and who presents himself as a member of an “invisible commando” collective, criticizes the bill.

Screen Shot, Facebook Page "Touche pas à ma constitution"

Several bloggers, like Ousmane Sarr Simal, do not mince their words:

Certes, comme certaines voix autorisées l'affirment, nul n'a le droit de brûler le Sénégal, mais nul n'a aussi le droit de considérer les Sénégalais comme des lingettes qu'on utilise et jette après usage.

Of course, as some authoritative voices argue, no one has the right to burn Senegal, but no one has the right to consider the Senegalese as wipes we use and throw after use either.

MP Cheikh Bamba Dieye calls for civil disobedience:

Mes chers compatriotes, l'heure n'est plus à la concertation ou à la discussion avec un pouvoir voyou, un pouvoir qui nous agresse et qui veut nous humilier.  J'en appelle donc à la désobéissance civile de tous les sénégalais car aucun citoyen n'a le droit de servir un régime corrompu et corrupteur, incompétent et qui nous fait souffrir au plus profond de nous-mêmes.

My dear compatriots, is not the time for consultation or discussion with a rogue power, a power that is attacking us and wants to humiliate us.I therefore call all Senegalese to civil disobedience  because no citizen has the right to serve a corrupt and corrupting, incompetent power that makes us suffer deeply.

One still has to find a blogger advocating for the reform. President Wade and his team seem to offer little “digital resistance” to their detractors.

It has been possible to follow in real time the different demonstrations by following  the hashtags  #ticketwade #touchepasàmaconstitution on Twitter. Oumy, on Twitter, and seneweb have provided real time coverage of  the events and riots in Dakar.

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