Senegal’s presidential election: A look at the four main candidates

After a political crisis with many twists and turns, Senegalese voters go to the polls on Sunday to choose their new president. Seventeen contenders are hoping to succeed President Macky Sall. FRANCE 24 examines the political backgrounds and main proposals of  four candidates: Amadou Ba, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Idrissa Seck and Khalifa Sall.

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A fast-paced electoral campaign is coming to an end for 17 Senegalese presidential candidates. Over just two weeks, they have been striving to convince voters to support them at the polls on Sunday.

This extraordinary campaign was cut short by the political crisis that began on February 3, when Sall cancelled the election that had been scheduled for February 25. Senegalese lawmakers voted to postpone the vote to December 15, but the Constitutional Council voided the cancellation and the postponement and forced Sall to set a new date. 

Read moreHow Senegal’s presidential election was postponed, reinstated and moved up

Sall is nearing the end of two terms (2012-2024) at the head of one of West Africa’s most stable countries. The constitution doesn’t allow him to run for a third mandate.

On March 9, two days after the council confirmed the March 24 vote, Senegal’s presidential candidates launched their campaigns. The 17 hopefuls have increased their trips and public meetings over the last few days to boost visibility and present their ideas on issues including sovereignty, civil liberties, emigration, schools, unemployment and a fishing industry crisis.

Here’s a look at the four main candidates’ key proposals:

  • Amadou Ba, the continuity candidate

Senegalese Prime Minister Amadou Ba speaks in Dakar on December 21, 2023. © Seyllou, AFP

Prime Minister Amadou Ba, 62, is a ruling party candidate and Sall’s preferred successor. The former minister of economy and finance and then foreign affairs, Ba presents himself as a candidate for stability and the continuity of the incumbent’s economic record, while also promising a return to calm after months of political crisis.

Ba focused his campaign programme on youth employment in a country where three-quarters of the population is under 35. His key promise: to create 1 million jobs by 2028 through public/private partnerships and investment in agriculture, industry, infrastructure and renewable energies.

He also calls for updating “conventions and contracts signed by the state of Senegal in the field of natural resources”, providing a minimum financial allowance to the elderly and accelerating the construction of a national school of cultural arts and crafts.

  • Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the anti-system candidate
Senegalese presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye gestures during a press conference in Dakar on March 15, 2024.
Senegalese presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye gestures during a press conference in Dakar on March 15, 2024. © John Wessels, AFP

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, 44, a replacement for opposition leader Ousmane Sonko who was excluded from the presidential race in January, has had even less time than other candidates to campaign in person. The cofounder of the opposition Pastef party, who was released from prison along with Sonko on March 14, is campaigning against the country’s political class and promises to reclaim Senegal’s “sovereignty”, a term used 18 times in his electoral platform.

To this end, Faye proposes getting rid of the CFA franc inherited from the colonial era to introduce a new currency, and to make the teaching of  English widespread in a country where the official language is French. He also says he wants to renegotiate mining and hydrocarbon contracts as well as defence agreements.

The Pastef platform also aims for institutional reform with the creation of the role of vice president and safeguards to check the power of the president, including potential removal from office.

  • Idrissa Seck, the veteran candidate
Idrissa Seck, founder of the Rewmi party, is seen during an opposition press conference in Dakar on January 15, 2019. Seck was also a candidate in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election.
Idrissa Seck, founder of the Rewmi party, is seen during an opposition press conference in Dakar on January 15, 2019. Seck was also a candidate in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election. © Seyllou, AFP

Former prime minister Idrissa Seck, who served under ex-president Abdoulaye Wade between 2002 and 2004, is running in a fourth consecutive presidential race. The 64-year-old former Sall opponent, who long maintained the suspense surrounding his eventual candidacy, has put his political experience and knowledge of the inner workings of government to use in his bid to win over voters.

Among his signature proposals are compulsory military service, the creation of a common currency for West African countries and a fund financed by oil and gas companies to compensate for damage to the fishing industry. 

The founder of Senegal’s Rewmi party also proposes to devote 60 percent of public investment to areas outside the Dakar region.

  • Khalifa Sall, the comeback candidate
Presidential candidate Khalifa Sall greets supporters during a tour of several areas in Senegal’s capital Dakar on March 9, 2024.
Presidential candidate Khalifa Sall greets supporters during a tour of several areas in Senegal’s capital Dakar on March 9, 2024. © Seyllou, AFP

Khalifa Sall (no relation to the outgoing president) is another Senegalese political heavyweight trying his luck in the race. Sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 5 million CFA francs for fraud and embezzlement of public funds in 2018, the leader of the Taxawu Senegal coalition was barred from entering the 2019 presidential contest. Macky Sall’s rival has since returned to politics thanks to a presidential pardon and a law authorising the restoration of civil rights for convicted people who were amnestied following a national dialogue initiated by the government in May 2023.

In this election, the 68-year-old Sall is presenting himself as the candidate to heal a “damaged” country. The man who sees himself as the heir to Senegal’s socialist party promises to institute a citizen-initiated referendum. He also pledges to devote at least 1,000 billion CFA francs (1.5 billion euros) of the annual national budget to agriculture.

Sall’s foreign policy programme aims to “diversify and rebalance” diplomatic and economic partnerships by “strengthening (global) south-south cooperation and cooperation with emerging countries”.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

 

The 17 candidates in Senegal’s presidential election

Anta Babacar Ngom

Amadou Ba

Boubacar Camara

Déthié Fall

Daouda Ndiaye

Khalifa Sall

Idrissa Seck

Mame Boye Diao

Mouhamed Boun Abdallah Dionne

Aliou Mamadou Dia

Malick Gackou

Aly Ngouille Ndiaye

Mamadou Lamine Diallo

Serigne Mboup

Pape Djibril Fall

Bassirou Diomaye Faye

Thierno Allassane Sall

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How Senegal’s presidential election was postponed, reinstated and moved up

Voters in Senegal go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president in the most wide-open election in the country’s history. The vote comes a few weeks after the explosion of a profound political crisis triggered by its cancellation and then delay by President Macky Sall. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at recent events.

Senegal is set to experience a new stage in its electoral drama on Sunday as some 7 million voters go to the polls across the West African country to elect their next president.

The election is remarkable in several ways, not least because it marks the end of President Macky Sall’s 12 years in power. And with 17 candidates vying to succeed him, it is the most wide-open presidential vote since Senegal gained independence from France in 1960.

It also marks the culmination of an intense political battle over the date of the polls, which began when Sall cancelled the election three weeks before its initial date of February 25, sending shock waves throughout Senegal. FRANCE 24 traces the key developments during the democratic crisis that ensued. 

Postponement of the vote

Sall announced that the ballot would be postponed indefinitely while speaking on national television on February 3, just a few hours before the start of the presidential campaign.

“For the past few days, our country has been faced with a dispute between the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council, in open conflict over an alleged case of corruption of judges,” he said, arguing that this situation threatened the credibility of the vote.

FRANCE 24 Special Edition: Senegal vote postponed ‘indefinitely’



Senegalese President Macky Sall postponed the country’s presidential elections © FRANCE 24 screengrab

Senegalese lawmakers four days earlier approved a parliamentary inquiry into how some potential candidates’ applications to enter the race had been invalidated. The inquiry was called for by the party of Karim Wade, who was excluded from the contest due to his French citizenship, as only citizens of exclusively Senegalese nationality are allowed to run. Wade’s supporters said they suspected two Constitutional Council judges of having “dubious connections” with some candidates, notably Prime Minister Amadou Ba, Sall’s preferred successor.

At the same time, police took presidential candidate Rose Wardini, whose application had been validated by the Constitutional Council, into custody on charges of “forgery, use of forgery and fraud” on suspicion of having dual French-Senegalese nationality.

A political manoeuvre?

Sall said on national TV that “these troubled conditions” could “sow the seeds of pre- and post-electoral dispute”.

“Our country cannot afford a new crisis” after episodes of violence in March 2021 and June 2023, he said.

Sall announced the establishment of a “national dialogue” for “a free, transparent and inclusive election”, while reaffirming his commitment not to stand for a third consecutive term.

But Sall’s decision to postpone the vote sparked many questions in Senegal, not least because ruling party MPs themselves had voted in favour of the parliamentary inquiry. While these legislators said they wanted to clear the name of their candidate Amadou Ba, the opposition blasted a manoeuvre designed to torpedo the election and prevent his defeat. 

Ba is also facing two dissident candidates from within his own camp: former prime minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne and former interior minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye.

But general opinion in Senegal holds that Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a candidate chosen by opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to replace him after his own candidacy was invalidated, poses the main threat to the outgoing president’s preferred candidate.

Reacting to Sall’s decision to postpone the election, lawyer and Faye supporter Amadou Ba (not to be confused with the prime minister) criticised the president’s arguments as “incredibly unserious”, pointing out that the parliamentary commission of inquiry was set up only on “mere suspicions” of corruption.

The day after Sall’s televised speech, hundreds of Senegalese demonstrated in the capital Dakar, where clashes broke out with police.

Lawmakers approve December polls

To cancel the February 25 election, Sall repealed a decree summoning the electorate. All that remained was to set a new date. Wade’s coalition called for a six-month postponement and submitted a bill to parliament. During a particularly tense session, lawmakers on February 5 approved December 15 as the new election date, judging the initially proposed date of August 25 to be unfit due to the rainy season.

The new deadline meant that Sall’s mandate, due to end on April 2, would be extended by 10 months. Many people in Senegal objected, denouncing a “constitutional coup d’état” enabling the president to hold on to power. 

Read moreSenegal’s democratic record on the line as presidential vote delay sparks crisis

Several presidential candidates lodged appeals with the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Council to block the postponement of the vote. 

Tensions quickly escalated in the streets. Police cracked down on demonstrations organised across Senegal on February 9 and in the days that followed. Four people died in Dakar, Saint-Louis and Ziguinchor – the southern town where Sonko was elected mayor in 2022 – in connection with the protests, the worst outbreak of violence during the election crisis.

Constitutional Council rules against postponement

The Constitutional Council on February 15 delivered its verdict on the appeal of the election postponement, and it was a clear blow to Sall: the court annulled his decree abrogating the vote for lack of legal basis. The council also found that the law adopted by parliament to postpone the vote violated the constitution, a second no-go.

Noting “the impossibility of organising the presidential election on the initially scheduled date” of February 25, the Constitutional Council asked “the competent authorities to hold it as soon as possible”.

The “national dialogue” organised by Sall but boycotted by the opposition recommended in early March that the delayed vote take place on June 2. In that scenario, Sall would remain in office until the inauguration of Senegal’s fifth president. The proposal was rejected by the Constitutional Council, which ruled that the election must occur before the end of Sall’s term on April 2.

The president and the council on March 7 finally agreed to hold Senegal’s election on March 24. The new date has the advantage of not falling on the Easter holiday, but meant that the presidential campaign unfolded during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – a first in Senegal’s history. The campaign period was also shortened from 21 to 17 days.

As part of an amnesty law passed by parliament a week earlier, Sonko and his replacement candidate Faye were released from prison on March 14 to rapturous celebrations by their supporters in the streets of Dakar.

On the following day, a final petition from Wade’s camp seeking to ban the ballot on the grounds that it would occur too soon was rejected by the Supreme Court, thus removing the last potential obstacle to the presidential election on Sunday.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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‘Noon against Putin’: A small gesture and a powerful symbol of Russia’s opposition

The widow of Russia’s late opposition leader Alexei Navalny is calling on voters in the country’s presidential election to turn up at polling stations en masse at 12 noon on March 17 and either vote against Vladimir Putin or spoil their ballot. The protest action, known as “Noon Against Putin”, aims to honour Navalny’s last wishes, while illustrating the high number of voters who are against Russia’s war on Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin is hoping for record turnout in the country’s forthcoming March 15-17 elections. And now the Russian strongman, who is seeking a fifth term in office in a tightly controlled vote, might find his wish has been granted.

But if voters turn out in high numbers on March 17 at noon sharp, Putin might feel he should have been careful what he wished for.

The “Noon against Putin” protest action was called for by the late Alexei Navalny two weeks before his death in an Arctic prison, and is now being continued by his widow Yulia.

Promoters of the protest want Russians to wait until noon on March 17 to go to their polling station. They don’t care which candidate they vote for – as long as it’s not Putin and as long as they come precisely at noon.

“The choice is yours. You can vote for any candidate except Putin,” Navalnaya said in a YouTube video.

“You can ruin the ballot, you can write ‘Navalny’ in big letters on it. And even if you don’t see the point in voting at all, you can just come and stand at the polling station, and then turn around and go home.”

Russia’s presidential election is widely expected to hand Putin another six-year term, keeping him in the Kremlin until at least 2030. The vote is being held with no meaningful opposition challengers and international observers have already raised concerns about its transparency and accountability.

Navalnaya views the polling protest as a gesture of support for the Russian opposition and a powerful way for citizens to show they are against Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Indeed the protest action may be the only thing motivating Russians who are against Putin to turn out and vote.

“How many people will show up is the only interesting figure in these elections,” says Matthew Wyman, a specialist in Russian politics at Keele University in the UK.

‘Navalny’s political legacy’

“We have to sabotage it [the election],” says Maxim Reznik, an exiled Russian opposition figure who came up with the idea for the initiative, when interviewed by independent Russian news website Meduza.

Reznik first suggested the protest action during a debate – “What to do about the presidential election?” – broadcast in January 2024 on the opposition channel Dozhd.

Since then, most of Russia’s leading opposition figures have voiced their support for the “Noon Against Putin” initiative, starting with Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, which rarely misses an opportunity to promote it.

Novaya Gazeta, the independent Russian newspaper, has even called the protest action “Navalny’s will”.

“It’s very appropriate to link it to Navalny because it’s the kind of thing he would have done,” Wyman points out.

“It is in the spirit of a lot of things Navalny was doing and asking people to do: it’s not difficult, and with small steps you can hope to make big changes,” adds Jenny Mathers, a specialist in Russia at Aberystwyth University in Wales.

“Noon against Putin” ties in perfectly with this strategy. Going to the polling station at a specific time calls for no particular effort from voters – neither does it put them at risk.

“What they are doing is trying to find ways to show resistance without risk of being put in jail. The protest is brilliant because they are doing exactly what the regime wants you to do: going to vote,” says Wyman, adding that the police would find it hard to justify arresting voters for doing their civic duty.

Mathers suggests it is important to start with small steps.

“The idea is to rebuild civil society and a credible opposition force that has been badly hit lately,” she notes. “After small steps, maybe a bigger one will come? I see it as one piece of a long-lasting campaign,” Mathers adds.

The number of Russians opposed to the war

This type of protest action illustrates “the creativity of actions undertaken by the opposition in Russia”, explains Wyman, adding that “the space to protest has been kind of reduced and reduced”.

“Noon against Putin” is just one of a long list of initiatives in a similar vein. Demonstrators have held up blank sheets of paper to symbolise the censorship of any criticism of Russia’s war on Ukraine, and activists have added QR codes to advertising billboards so that citizens can access websites critical of Putin.

“These are the kind of practices you see in regimes that become more and more oppressive,” says Mathers.

“It is like what China does, when they use Winnie the Pooh,” adds Mathers, referring to China’s ban of a Winnie the Pooh film after the Chinese used memes to mock their leader Xi Pingping by comparing him to the honey-loving bear.

Some wonder if the protest action will have any real impact.

“Obviously it’s not going to change the outcome of the election,” admits Mathers.

However, Wyman believes it will give a “better picture” of the strength of the opposition to the war on Ukraine.

The vast crowds that gathered for Navalny’s funeral on March 1 have already given some insight into the feeling of dissent in Russia. At least 27,000 people came to say farewell to Navalny at Borisovsky cemetery on the outskirts of Moscow, according to a count by the independent Russian news outlet Mediazona.

But Stephen Hall, a Russia specialist at the University of Bath, predicts that voter turnout will be much higher than it was for Navalny’s funeral – pointing out that it was mainly Muscovites who attended, and that police had warned people to stay away.

“Here the risk of arrest is low and it’s [taking place] all over Russia.

“This is a low risk way to show you’re against the regime and the war.”

Stealing the media limelight from Putin

Hall believes one of “Noon Against Putin’s” main challenges will be mobilising people outside of Moscow or St Petersburg.

“Putin has always counted on popular support on the outskirts of major urban centres. If long queues form in front of polling stations all over Russia at midday on Sunday, he may start to worry about the real level of his popularity,” he explains.

“Noon against Putin” also aims to steal the media spotlight from the Kremlin.

“The regime wants this election to be non-controversial. So the more disruption there is, like huge numbers going to polling stations at noon, the more this might be a problem for Putin,” says Mathers.

“Putin desperately wants all the world headlines after the election to say he ‘got 85 percent’,” says Reznik.

“But now, rest assured, you’ll see! All the headlines won’t be about Putin’s performance but about what happened at ‘Noon’,” Reznik adds.

“It’s about creating a counter-narrative,” agrees Matthew Wyman.

This is partly so that Russians opposed to the regime do not feel alone, but it’s also “a way to say to the world we are not all Putin, and that there is a movement to support in Russia”, adds Mathers.

But for that to happen, voters will need to turn out in high numbers at polling stations at noon on Sunday.

This article has been translated from the original in French. 

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Five things to know about Russia’s upcoming presidential election

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking a fifth term as Russians vote from Friday to Sunday in an election that has already raised transparency and accountability concerns. After two anti-war candidates were disqualified, the remaining three have all supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Russia is holding a presidential election that is set to hand President Vladimir Putin another six-year mandate despite the upheaval triggered by Moscow’s war in Ukraine. 

After a 2021 constitutional reform altered Russian term limits, Putin could remain in power until 2036. He was first elected president in 2000. 

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has said its election observers were not invited to monitor the 2024 vote to ensure an “impartial and independent assessment” of the electoral process. 

Here are five things to know about the Russian election:

No anti-war opposition

The only would-be candidates opposed to the campaign in Ukraine, Boris Nadezhdin and Yekaterina Duntsova, who gathered tens of thousands of signatures to support their candidacies, had their applications turned down.

Read moreRussians queue to register election candidate opposed to Ukraine offensive

Other than Putin, there are three registered candidates – the nationalist conservative Leonid Slutsky, the Communist Party candidate Nikolai Kharitonov and Vladislav Davankov, a businessman.

They have all supported Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Kremlin critics point out that the role of these three candidates is to channel any discontent and give a pluralist varnish to the vote at a time when the opposition has been greatly diminished by repression.

Read moreDeath of Alexei Navalny decimates the Russian opposition

Independent observers also say the authorities have means at their disposal to manage the results, including vote-rigging, ballot-stuffing and using millions of state employees to back the status quo.

The only unknown factor is whether there could be any protests, as called for by late opposition leader Alexei Navalny and now his widow, Yulia Navalnaya.

Thousands of supporters turned out to pay their respects at Navalny’s funeral in Moscow last month, some chanting anti-government slogans.

His widow has called the elections “a complete fiction and a fake”, and earlier this month urged supporters to show up at the polling stations on Sunday to protest.

“What to do next? The choice is yours. You can vote for any candidate except Putin,” she said in a YouTube video. “You can ruin the ballot, you can write ‘Navalny’ in big letters on it. And even if you don’t see the point in voting at all, you can just come and stand at the polling station, and then turn around and go home.”


Putin’s promises

While the result of the election is not in doubt, the government is campaigning hard, in a bid to strengthen Putin’s domestic and international legitimacy.

The Kremlin chief is in a better position now because of Russian advances in Ukraine amid cracks in Western support for Kyiv, and the Russian economy proving resilient despite heavy sanctions.

Putin has stepped up media appearances in recent weeks, meeting students, visiting factories and even taking a flight in a nuclear bomber.

But the efforts have not come without a cost. According to internal Kremlin documents recently obtained by the Estonian news website Delfi, the government has spent some €1 billion on propaganda ahead of the elections.

Read more‘Kremlin Leaks’: Files detail Putin’s €1 billion propaganda effort ahead of presidential vote

However, the Russian president has never taken part in an election debate since coming to power nearly a quarter of a century ago and will not start now.

In his State of the Nation speech last month, he made a long series of budget promises, handing out billions of rubles to modernise schools and infrastructure, fight poverty, protect the environment and boost technology.

The speech laid out a programme of government until at least 2030.

Economic concerns

Even though the economy has held up far better than expected, many Russians are worried about rising prices – particularly for food – and, in general, the instability generated by the war in Ukraine.

Labour shortages have piled up since thousands of young men have either died or are fighting in Ukraine, while hundreds of thousands of other people have fled abroad because they oppose the conflict or to avoid military service.

The authorities have clamped down hard in recent months on demonstrations by the wives of conscripted soldiers who have been asking for their loved ones to be allowed to return from the front.

Calls to vote

Patriotic posters have been plastered around the country, calling on Russians to vote.

The election posters have a “V” sign akin to the one used by Russian troops in Ukraine and the slogan: “Together, we are strong. Let’s vote for Russia!”

The authorities will also organise raffles and entertainment to encourage voters to come out and vote in a country where disenchantment with politics, particularly among young people, is high.

Neighbouring Ukraine and its Western allies are presented as troublemakers in state media and official speeches.

Putin warned in December about possible “foreign interference” in the vote and promised a “severe response”.

Last week, Russia summoned the US ambassador Lynne Tracy, accusing US-funded NGOs of “spreading disinformation” about the election.

According to the Moscow Times, Russia warned of retaliatory measures that could include expelling “US embassy officials involved in such actions”.

Voting in Russia-held Ukraine

In a sign of Russian authorities trying to project normality amid an ongoing conflict, there will be voting in Russian-held areas of Ukraine.

Russia in 2022 declared the unilateral annexation of four regions of Ukraine – even though its troops still do not control them fully.

Kyiv says local inhabitants are now being subjected to threats and violence to force them to vote –something which Moscow denies.

Russian soldiers deployed in Ukraine have been able to cast their ballots early.

 


Three women sit on a bench near a mobile polling station during early voting in Russia’s presidential election, in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, on March 10, 2024. Kyiv has warned that residents in Russian-annexed areas have been threatened against not voting. © Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters)

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West mounts pressure on Russia after Navalny’s death in prison

Western nations Saturday mounted pressure on Russia, blaming its leader and the government for the death of leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison in opaque circumstances.

Navalny’s death was announced on Friday after three years in detention and a poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin

It deprives Russia‘s opposition of its figurehead just a month before an election poised to extend President Vladimir Putin‘s hold on power and comes at a time of intense repression and as Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine nears its two-year anniversary.


The West blamed Putin and his government for the 47-year-old’s death which followed months of deteriorating health in harsh detention conditions.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Saturday said Navalny’s “heroic opposition to Putin’s repressive and unjust regime inspired the world”.

“We hold the Russian Government solely responsible for his treatment and death in prison,” Wong said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.


US President Joe Biden was equally blunt, saying: “Make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death”.

Russian Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov added: “Alexei Navalny was tortured and tormented for three years… Murder was added to Alexei Navalny‘s sentence”.

The death was announced by Russia‘s federal penitentiary service, which said Navalny “felt bad after a walk, almost immediately losing consciousness”.

Russian news agencies reported that medics from a local hospital arrived within minutes and spent more than “half an hour” trying to resuscitate him.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, said she held Putin personally responsible and called on the international community to “unite and defeat this evil, terrifying regime”.

Navalny was Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and won a huge following as he campaigned against corruption under Putin. 

Putin – who famously never referred to Navalny by name – was on a visit to the Urals on Friday and made no mention of the death.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Western leaders of “absolutely unacceptable” and “hysterical” reactions to Navalny’s death.

Moscow authorities also warned the public against taking part in any protests as videos shared online showed dozens of Russians laying flowers at monuments to victims of political repression in different Russian cities.

At least one person was detained for holding up a placard that appeared to say “murderers” in a video posted by the independent Sota Telegram channel.

Russia’s OVD-Info rights group said police on Saturday detained over 100 people gathered at spontaneous memorials for Navalny across the country.

As of February 17, “more than 101 people have already been detained in 10 cities” including 11 in the capital Moscow, OVD-Info said on its website.

‘Brutally murdered’ 

One of Navalny’s lawyers, Leonid Solovyov, told Novaya Gazeta newspaper that he was “normal” when another lawyer saw him on Wednesday.

In footage of a court hearing from his prison colony on Thursday, Navalny was seen smiling and joking as he addressed the judge by video link. State media reported he raised no health complaints during the session.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference hours after news of her husband’s death, Yulia Navalnaya said Putin and his entourage “will be punished for everything they have done to our country, to my family and to my husband”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Navalny had “paid for his courage with his life”.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it had summoned the Russian embassy “to make clear that we hold the Russian authorities fully responsible” for Navalny’s death.

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said his death “reminds us of the reality of Putin’s regime” and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Navalny had been “killed by Putin”. 

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for “a full, credible and transparent investigation”.

The Russian foreign ministry hit back, saying the way Western leaders blamed Russia for his death showed their hypocrisy.

“There is no forensic examination yet, but the West already has conclusions ready,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to state news agency TASS.

‘I’m not afraid’ 

Navalny, who led street protests for more than a decade, became a household name through his anti-corruption campaigning.

His exposes of official corruption, posted on his YouTube channel, racked up millions of views and brought tens of thousands of Russians to the streets, despite harsh anti-protest laws.

He was jailed in early 2021 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent.

In a string of cases, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges widely condemned by rights groups and in the West as retribution for his opposition to the Kremlin.

His return to Russia despite knowing he would face jail brought him admiration. 

“I’m not afraid and I call on you not to be afraid,” he said in an appeal to supporters as he landed in Moscow, moments before being detained on charges linked to an old fraud conviction.

His 2021 arrest spurred some of the largest demonstrations Russia had seen in decades, and thousands were detained at rallies nationwide calling for his release.

From behind bars he was a staunch opponent of Moscow’s full-scale military offensive against Ukraine, and watched on, helplessly, as the Kremlin dismantled his organisation and locked up his allies.

Dozens of his top supporters fled into exile and continued to campaign against the offensive on Ukraine and repression inside Russia.

‘Don’t do nothing’ 

Late last year, Navalny was moved to a remote Arctic prison colony in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets region in northern Siberia.

He said in January that his daily routine included prison walks in freezing temperatures.

Since being jailed in 2021, he spent more than 300 days in solitary confinement, where prison authorities kept him over alleged minor infringements of prison rules.

The last post on Navalny’s Telegram channel, which he managed through his lawyers and team in exile, was a tribute to his wife posted on Valentine’s Day.

In a documentary filmed before he returned to Russia, Navalny was asked what message he wanted to leave to the Russian people should he die or be killed.

“Don’t give up. You mustn’t, you can’t give up,” he said.

“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Therefore, don’t do nothing.”

(AFP) 



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Death of Alexei Navalny decimates the Russian opposition

The death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has further diminished a rapidly shrinking Russian opposition, which has seen its members assassinated, sentenced to lengthy prison terms or forced into exile as Russian President Vladimir Putin makes it clear he will not tolerate challenges to his regime. 

It was widely feared that Alexei Navalny was risking his life by positioning himself as Putin’s most vocal critic in an increasingly repressive Russia, even challenging him for the presidency in 2018. 

Navalny narrowly survived being poisoned with novichok – a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union – in 2020 and spent months recuperating in Germany. He earned admiration from Russia’s disparate opposition for voluntarily returning to Russia the following year.

His death comes just a day before the official launch of campaigning ahead of a new round of presidential elections set for March 15-17.

Putin oversaw changes to the constitution in 2021 that will allow him to run for two more six-year terms, meaning he could stay in power until 2036. Putin is already the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who died in 1953.

On December 8 Putin announced his candidature for re-election and is widely expected to win, given the lack of political alternatives and the Kremlin’s iron grip on the state apparatus. 

Those who have been brave enough to defy Putin ahead of the vote have been stymied by legal challenges.

Former legislator Yekaterina Duntsova was barred in December from challenging Putin when the Central Election Commission said it was refusing to accept her nomination, citing errors in submitted documents that included misspelled names. Duntsova said she would appeal the decision at the Supreme Court and appealed to the Yabloko (Apple) party to nominate her as a candidate after the party’s founder and leader, Grigory Yavlinsky, said he would not be challenging Putin for the presidency. 

Duntsova has said she wants to see a more “humane” Russia that is “peaceful, friendly and ready to cooperate with everyone on the principle of respect”.

Another anti-war candidate, Boris Nadezhdin, was also disqualified from the vote. Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected legal challenges to the ruling but Nadezhdin said he would appeal and file a further claim against the electoral commission’s refusal to register him as a candidate.

“I don’t give up and I won’t give up,” he said.

An Arctic prison

Navalny was Putin’s most vocal critic and the one who garnered the most international recognition, winning the EU’s Sakharov Prize for human rights in 2021.

Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin found a way to remove him from the running. Navalny was sentenced to 19 more years in prison in August last year for extremism. He was already serving a nine-year term for embezzlement and other charges that he maintained were politically motivated.

Navalny briefly disappeared in December from the IK-6 prison colony in the Vladimir region, some 250 kilometres east of Moscow, where he had spent most of his detention. His disappearance provoked widespread international alarm, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken releasing a statement on X shortly before Christmas to say he was “deeply concerned about the whereabouts of Aleksey Navalny”.

After sending hundreds of requests to detention centres across Russia, Navalny’s allies managed to locate him. In a series of sardonic messages published on X shortly thereafter, Navalny said he was “fine” and “relieved” that he had arrived at his new – and much more remote – Arctic prison.  

A BBC reporter said Navalny “looked to be fine” when he appeared via video link at a court hearing the day before his death.

 

A decimated opposition

Putin’s critics have long had the unfortunate habit of dying prematurely.

Journalist Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was an investigative reporter at top independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and a fierce critic of the war in Chechnya. She was shot dead in 2006 at the entrance to her Moscow apartment block. Five men were sentenced and imprisoned over her death in 2014; one of them, a former policeman, was pardoned and released last year after fighting in Ukraine.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent turned Putin critic, died after drinking green tea laced with the radioactive isotope polonium-210 at a London hotel in November 2006, six years to the day after he fled Russia for Britain. In a 326-page report on his death, a UK judge said the killing was “probably approved” by Putin.

Opposition politician and former deputy PM Boris Nemtsov was shot dead near Red Square in Moscow in 2015. At the time of his death, the 55-year-old Nemtsov was working on a report that he believed proved the Kremlin’s direct involvement in the pro-Russian separatist rebellion that had erupted in eastern Ukraine the year prior.

Read moreThe mysterious fates met by Putin critics

 

The leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, led a brief but dramatic march on Moscow last June after becoming an increasingly vocal critic of Putin’s handling of the war in Ukraine. After hours of uncertainty the rebellion fizzled, and Prigozhin reportedly agreed to go into exile in Belarus

He died in a private plane crash two months after launching his aborted challenge. Grenade fragments were found in the bodies of victims at the crash site, according to the Kremlin. 

Others have found themselves behind bars, serving lengthy prison sentences. Amid the war in Ukraine, a law criminalising “discrediting the Russian armed forces” was adopted on March 4, 2022; in the three days that followed, more than 60 cases were opened against those accused of violating the new law, “the vast majority” of them peaceful anti-war protesters, according to Human Rights Watch. 

Russian political activist and former journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, 42, was sentenced last April to 25 years in prison for publicly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He was convicted of treason and spreading “false” information about the Russian military, among other charges. 

Kara-Murza, a member of the rapidly shrinking group of opposition figures who remain in Russia, said he was determined to be a voice against both Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.

State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel condemned the sentencing. “Mr. Kara-Murza is yet another target of the Russian government’s escalating campaign of repression.  We renew our call for Mr. Kara-Murza’s release, as well as the release of the more than 400 political prisoners in Russia,” Patel said at the time.

Read moreLast remaining voices of the Russian opposition are being silenced amid war in Ukraine

The death of Navalny further weakens a Russian opposition already decimated by death and imprisonment, with others having fled into exile over fears for their safety. 

There are almost “no options for expressing criticism” in Russia, where repression has reached a scale “unequalled since the end of World War II”, Russia expert Cécile Vaissié of Rennes-II University told FRANCE 24 shortly after Kara-Murza was sentenced. 

But she said a few voices do remain, and their presence in Russia carries “symbolic weight” – even if they are prevented from wielding any real power.     

Read more‘Putin has decided to become the new Stalin’: Exiled Russian dissident Vladimir Osechkin

(AFP, AP and Reuters) 



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Venezuela’s highest court upholds ban on opposition presidential candidate Machado

The prospect of a free presidential election in Venezuela was dealt a heavy blow Friday when the country’s highest court upheld a ban on the candidacy of María Corina Machado, a longtime government foe and winner of the primary held by the opposition faction backed by the United States.

The ruling came months after President Nicolás Maduro and the U.S.-backed opposition reached an agreement aimed at leveling the playing field ahead of the election later this year. The deal led Washington to ease economic sanctions on Maduro’s government.

Machado, a former lawmaker, won the opposition’s independently run presidential primary in October with more than 90% of the votes. Her victory came despite the government announcing a 15-year ban on her running for office just days after she formally entered the race in June. 

She was able to participate in the primary election because the effort was organized by a commission independent of Venezuela’s electoral authorities. She insisted throughout the campaign that she never received an official notification of the ban, and said that voters, not ruling-party loyalists, are the rightful decision-makers of her candidacy.

After the court issued its ruling, Machado tweeted that her campaign’s “fight to conquer democracy through free and fair elections” is not over. 

“Maduro and his criminal system chose the worst path for them: fraudulent elections,” she wrote. “That’s not gonna happen.”


She did not offer any details of her next steps, and her campaign declined to comment.

Machado had filed a claim with Venezuela‘s Supreme Tribunal of Justice in December arguing the ban was null and void and seeking an injunction to protect her political rights.

Watch moreVenezuela opposition leader Machado: ‘The Maduro regime is in its weakest position ever’

 

Instead, the court upheld the ban, which alleges fraud and tax violations and accuses her of seeking the economic sanctions the U.S. imposed on Venezuela last decade. 

The U.S. eased some of the sanctions on Venezuela’s oil, gas and mining industries in October after Maduro’s government and the opposition group known as the Unitary Platform signed the agreement addressing electoral conditions. The accord also led to a swap of prisoners between Washington and Caracas in December. 

The deal signed on the Caribbean island of Barbados narrowed the scheduling of the presidential election to the second half of 2024 and called on both sides to “promote the authorization of all presidential candidates and political parties” to participate as long as they comply with the law. The latter provision prompted the government to allow candidates to appeal their bans.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has threatened to reverse some of the sanctions relief if Maduro’s government fails to lift bans preventing Machado and others from running for office, and if it fails to release political prisoners.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately comment on the court’s action.

Geoff Ramsey, senior analyst on Venezuela at the Atlantic Council think tank, said Maduro’s government was never going to let Machado be a presidential candidate because “her popularity makes her too much of a threat.”

“The timing of this will make it almost impossible for the U.S. government to ignore,” he said. “The problem for Washington is that it’s essentially run out of ways to pressure Maduro. How do you threaten a regime that’s already endured multiple coup attempts and years of crippling sanctions?”

The harshest sanctions were imposed after Venezuela’s last presidential election, which was widely considered a sham and cost Maduro international recognition as the country’s legitimate leader. 

The U.S.-backed opposition stunned its allies and adversaries when more than 2.4 million people voted in the primary, including in neighborhoods long considered strongholds of the governing party. The high turnout came amid Venezuela’s continuing economic struggles and despite government efforts to discourage participation.

After the vote, Maduro and his allies called the opposition’s primary fraudulent. Attorney General Tarek William Saab opened criminal investigations against some of the organizers and later issued arrest warrants for some of Machado’s collaborators.

Over the past two weeks, Maduro, Saab and Jorge Rodriguez, the leader of the National Assembly and the government’s chief negotiator, have linked opposition supporters and people close to Machado to a number of alleged conspiracies they claim were devised to assassinate the president and his inner circle.

Rodríguez, without mentioning Machado, tweeted Friday that “despite the serious threats from far-right sectors against the peace of the Republic,” referring to the alleged conspiracies, “the mechanism established within the framework of the Barbados Agreements has been met.”

Rodríguez vowed to hold the presidential election this year. Maduro will be seeking to add six more years to his decade-long presidency marked in its entirety by political, social and economic crisis. Under Maduro’s watch, millions of Venezuelans have fallen into poverty and more than 7.4 million have migrated.

A U.N.-backed panel investigating human rights abuses in Venezuela in September determined that Maduro’s government has intensified efforts to curtail democratic freedoms ahead of the 2024 election. That includes subjecting some politicians, human rights defenders and other opponents to detention, surveillance, threats, defamatory campaigns and arbitrary criminal proceedings.

Election campaigns in Venezuela typically involve handouts of free food, home appliances and other goods on behalf of governing party candidates, who also get favorable state media coverage. Opposition candidates and their supporters struggle to find places to gather without harassment from government activists and to get fuel to travel across the country. 

A common government practice for sidelining adversaries is to ban them from public office, and it is not limited to presidential contests. 

Such a ban was used retroactively in 2021 to remove gubernatorial candidate Freddy Superlano when he was ahead of a sibling of the late President Hugo Chávez but had not yet been declared the winner. Superlano’s substitute was also kept off the ballot via a ban. 

The court on Friday also upheld a ban on former governor and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who dropped out of the primary race before the vote.


“What they will never be able to ban is the Venezuelans’ desire for CHANGE,” Capriles tweeted. “… Today more than ever, let nothing and no one take us off the electoral route.”

(AP)



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Arrest of Pakistan’s ex-PM Imran Khan sparks deadly clashes with supporters

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested and dragged from court Tuesday as he appeared to face charges in multiple graft cases, a dramatic escalation of political tensions that sparked violent demonstrations by his angry supporters in several major cities.

The arrest of Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022 but remains the leading opposition figure, represented the latest confrontation to roil Pakistan, which has seen former prime ministers arrested over the years and interventions by its powerful military.

At least one person was reported killed in clashes between protesters and the military in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, with another five people wounded there, while about 15 injuries were reported amid similar violence in Karachi, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore. Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrations.


Amid the violence, officials at Pakistan’s telecommunication authority said regulators blocked social media, including Twitter, and internet service was suspended in the capital of Islamabad and other cities. Classes at some private schools were canceled for Wednesday.

Khan was removed from the Islamabad High Court by security agents from the National Accountability Bureau, said Fawad Chaudhry, a senior official with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, and then shoved into an armored car and whisked away.

Chaudhry denounced the arrest of the 71-year-old former cricket star as “an abduction.” Pakistan’s independent GEO TV broadcast video of Khan being hauled away.

A scuffle broke out between Khan’s supporters and police outside the court. Some of Khan’s lawyers and supporters were injured in the melee, as were several police, Chaudhry said. Khan’s party complained to the court, which requested a police report explaining the charges for Khan’s arrest.


Khan was taken to the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, for questioning at the offices of the National Accountability Bureau, according to police and government officials. He also was to undergo a routine medical checkup, police said.

Khan had arrived at the Islamabad High Court from nearby Lahore, where he lives, to face charges in the graft cases.

He has denounced the cases against him, which include terrorism charges, as a politically motivated plot by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, saying his ouster was illegal and a Western conspiracy. Khan has campaigned against Sharif and demanded early elections.

Tuesday’s arrest was based on a new warrant from the National Accountability Bureau obtained last week in a separate graft case for which Khan had not been granted bail, making him vulnerable to be seized, and his lawyers challenged the legality of the arrest. He is scheduled to appear at an anti-graft tribunal on Wednesday, officials said.

“Imran Khan has been arrested because he was being sought in a graft case,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told a news conference. He alleged Pakistan’s treasury had lost millions of dollars while Khan was in office due to illegal purchases of lands from a business tycoon.

At a news conference, Law Minister Azam Tarar said Khan was arrested because he was not cooperating with the investigations. He also denounced the violence by Khan supporters, saying that protests must remain peaceful. 

“It should have not happened,” he said, shortly after TV video emerged of burning vehicles and damaged public property in parts of the country.

Authorities said they have banned rallies in the eastern province of Punjab.

As the news of the arrest spread, about 4,000 of Khan’s supporters stormed the official residence of the top regional commander in Lahore, smashing windows and doors, damaging furniture and staging a sit-in as troops there retreated to avoid violence. The protesters also burned police vehicles and blocked key roads.

Protesters also smashed the main gate of the army’s headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where troops exercised restraint. Hundreds of demonstrators shouted pro-Khan slogans as they moved toward the sprawling building.


In the port city of Karachi, police swung batons and fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Khan supporters who had gathered on a key road. 

Raoof Hasan, another leader from Khan’s party, told Al Jazeera English television that the arrest is “blatant interference in the judicial affairs by the powers-that-be.” Hasan added that Khan “was virtually abducted from the court of law.”

Khan’s arrest came hours after he issued a video message before heading to Islamabad, saying he was “mentally prepared” for arrest there.

Khan was wounded by a gunman at a rally in November, an attack that killed one of his supporters and wounded 13. He has insisted, without offering any evidence, that there is a plot to assassinate him, alleging that Pakistan’s spy agency was behind the conspiracy. The gunman was immediately arrested and police later released a video of him in custody, allegedly saying he had acted alone.

In a strongly worded statement Monday, the military accused Khan of “fabricated and malicious allegations” of its involvement in the November shooting, saying they are “extremely unfortunate, deplorable and unacceptable.”

The military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of the 75 years since the country gained independence from British colonial rule, and wields considerable power over civilian governments.

Sharif, whose government faces spiraling economic woes and is struggling to recover from last year’s devastating floods that killed hundreds and caused $30 billion in damage, slammed Khan for assailing the military. 

“Let this be abundantly clear that you, as former prime minister, currently on trial for corruption, are claiming legitimacy to overturn the legal and political system,” Sharif tweeted after Khan’s arrest.

In a statement, the European Union urged “restraint and cool headedness” in the country, through dialogue and the rule of law.

Khan is the seventh former prime minister to be arrested in Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arrested and hanged in 1979. The current prime minister’s brother, Nawaz Sharif, who also served as prime minister, was arrested several times on corruption allegations.

In March, police stormed Khan’s Lahore residence, seeking to arrest him based on a court order in a different case. Dozens of people, including police, were injured in ensuing clashes. Khan was not arrested at the time and later obtained bail in the case.

Khan came to power in 2018 after winning parliamentary elections and had initially good relations with the military which gradually soured. 

(AP)



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