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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‘Shpilkin method’: Statistical tool gauges voter fraud in Putin landslide

As many as half of all the votes reported for Vladimir Putin in Russia’s presidential election last week were fraudulent, according to Russian independent media reports using a statistical method devised by analyst Sergey Shpilkin to estimate the extent of voter manipulation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed a landslide victory on Sunday that will keep him in power until at least 2030, following a three-day presidential election that Western critics dismissed as neither free nor fair.

The criticism is shared by Russia’s remaining independent media outlets, which have published their estimates of the extent of voter manipulation during the March 15-17 election that saw Putin clinch a fifth term in office with a record 87% of ballots cast.

Massive fraud

“Around 22 million ballots officially in favour of Vladimir Putin were falsified,” said the Russian investigative journalism website Meduza, which interviewed Russian electoral analyst Ivan Shukshin.

Important Stories, another investigative news website, gave a similar number, estimating that 21.9 million false votes were cast for the incumbent president.

The opposition media outlet Novaya Gazeta Europe came up with an even bigger number, claiming that 31.6 million ballots were falsified in Putin’s favour.

That figure “corresponds to almost 50 percent of all the votes cast in the president’s favour, according to the Central Election Commission [Putin received 64.7 million votes]”, said Jeff Hawn, a Russia expert at the London School of Economics.

All three estimates suggest that “fraud on a scale unprecedented in Russian electoral history” was committed, added Matthew Wyman, a specialist in Russian politics at Keele University in the UK.

The three news outlets all used the same algorithmic method to estimate the extent of voter fraud. It is named after Russian statistician Sergey Shpilkin, who developed it a decade ago.

Shpilkin’s work analysing Russian elections has won him several prestigious independent awards in Russia, including the PolitProsvet prize for electoral research awarded in 2012 by the Liberal Mission Foundation.

However, he has also made some powerful enemies by denouncing electoral fraud. In February 2023, Shpilkin was added to Russia’s list of “foreign agents”.

Shady turnout figures

The Shpilkin method “offers a simple way of quantitatively assessing electoral fraud in Russia, whereas most other approaches focus on detecting whether or not fraud has been committed”, said Dmitry Kogan, an Estonia-based statistician who has worked with Shpilkin and others to develop tools for analysing election results. 

This approach – used by Meduza, Important Stories and Novaya Gazeta – is based “on the turnout at each polling station”, said Kogan.

The aim is to identify polling stations where turnout does not appear to be abnormally high, and then use them as benchmarks to get an idea of the actual vote distribution between the various candidates.

In theory, the share of votes in favour of each candidate does not change – or does so only marginally –according to turnout rate.

In other words, the Shpilkin method has been able to determine that in Russia, candidate A always has an average X percent of the vote and candidate B around Y percent, whether there are 100, 200 or more voters in an “honest” polling station.

In polling stations with high voter turnout, “we realised that this proportional change in vote distribution completely disappears, and that Vladimir Putin is the main beneficiary of the additional votes cast”, said Alexander Shen, a mathematician and statistician at the French National Centre for Scientific Research’s Laboratory of Computer Science, Robotics and Microelectronics in Montpellier. .

To quantify the fraud, Putin’s score is compared with what the result would have been if the distribution of votes had been the same as at an “honest” polling station. The resulting discrepancy with his official score gives an idea of the extent to which the results were manipulated in his favour.

The Shpilkin method makes it possible to put a figure on the “ballot box stuffing and accounting tricks to add votes for Vladimir Putin”, said Shen.

Limitations of the Shpilkin method

However, “this procedure would be useless if the authorities used more subtle methods to rig the results”, Kogan cautioned. 

For instance, if the “fraudsters” took votes away from one of the candidates and attributed them to Putin, the Shpilkin method would no longer work, he explained.

“The fact that the authorities seem to be continuously using the most basic methods shows that it doesn’t bother them that people are aware of the manipulation,” Kogan added.

Another problem with the Shpilkin method is that it requires “at least a few polling stations where you can be reasonably sure that no fraud has occurred”, said Kogan, for whom that condition was not easy to be sure about in last week’s presidential election.

“I’m not sure we can really reconstruct a realistic distribution of votes between the candidates, because I don’t know if there is enough usable data,” added Shen.

Does this negate the validity of the estimates put forward by independent Russian media?

Kogan said he stopped trying to quantify electoral fraud in Russia in 2021. He explained: “At the time, I estimated that nearly 20 million votes in the Duma [lower house] election had been falsified. Then I said to myself, ‘what’s the point in going to all this trouble if the ballots were completely rigged?’”

Nevertheless, he said it is important to have estimates based on the Shpilkin method because even if it is difficult to get a precise idea, “the order of magnitude is probably right”. 

These rough estimates are also “an important political weapon”, said Wyman, stressing the need to “undermine the narrative of the Russian authorities, who claim that the high turnout and the vote in favour of Putin demonstrate that the country is united”.

It is also an important message to the international community, added Hawn.

“The stereotype is that Russians naturally vote for authoritarian figures,” he said. “By showing how inflated the figures are, this is a way of proving that the reality is far more nuanced.”

This article has been translated from the original in French

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Russia’s presidential election: Three Putin challengers but little suspense

President Vladimir Putin faces just three rivals in Russia’s March 15-17 presidential election after anti-war candidates were barred from running. But Leonid Slutsky, Nikolai Kharitonov and Vladislav Davankov do not pose much of a challenge for the Russian leader, who is all but guaranteed to secure another six-year term. 

The first polls in Russia’s March 15-17 presidential election opened in the country’s easternmost Kamchatka Peninsula region at 8am local time Friday, with the vast voting exercise spanning 11 time zones set to finish in the westernmost Kaliningrad enclave at 8pm on Sunday.

The election holds little suspense. Incumbent Vladimir Putin – who has been in power either as president or prime minister for nearly a quarter-century – is set to secure another six-year term. 

But a longtime autocrat requires a veneer of legitimacy, even in Russia. Voters will thus have a choice between the almost guaranteed victor and three pre-approved candidates.   

Ultranationalist Leonid Slutsky of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Vladislav Davankov of the relatively liberal New People’s Party and veteran candidate Nikolai Kharitonov of the Communist Party are the supporting characters in 2024’s electoral choreography. In a possible sign of Russia’s shrinking tolerance for political challenges, that’s four fewer candidates than qualified for the 2018 presidential election. 

Competition and criticism was severely curtailed in the lead-up to the 2024 vote, with authorities blocking a number of opposition hopefuls and critics using a variety of means, including labelling them as “foreign agents”.   

“Between the ‘foreign agent’ labels, the fines, imprisonments and the incredible hardening of the regime, the number of candidates is limited. However, they represent real political forces. The nationalist right carries political weight in Russia, as do the Communists, whose score could be in the region of 10 percent,” noted Jean de Gliniasty, former French ambassador to Russia and current senior research fellow at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS).

Read more‘Noon against Putin’: Navalny widow realises his last wish for the Russian opposition

‘I don’t dream of beating Putin’

But while some of the candidates represent established political parties, they do not pose much of a challenge to Putin, nor have they put up much of a fight on the campaign trail.

Shortly after registering his candidacy in December 2023, Slutsky – the candidate from the ultranationalist LDPR founded by the late right-wing populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky – appeared certain of defeat.

“I don’t dream of beating Putin. What’s the point?” Slutsky told reporters. The 56-year-old Russian politician who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian lower house, the State Duma, then predicted “a huge victory” for Putin.

At 75, Kharitonov is the oldest candidate on the ballot. A veteran Communist Party politician who has been a State Duma deputy since 1993, Kharitonov ran for president in 2004, coming in second to Putin with 13.7 percent of the vote.

This time, Kharitonov ran a low-key campaign, focused on Soviet-era issues, including criticising capitalism, promoting industrial nationalisation and an increase in the Russian birth rate.

Davankov, 39, is the youngest of the opposition candidates. The former businessman-turned-politician promotes greater freedom for businesses and a stronger role for regional authorities. 

The deputy chairman of the State Duma, where his party holds 15 of the 450 seats, Davankov has tried to position himself as a candidate opposed to the Kremlin’s excessive curbs on personal freedoms. He favours peace talks with Ukraine, following the Kremlin’s official line, while reiterating that it should be “on our terms and with no rollback”, meaning Russia should not cede territory it has occupied.

Read moreFive things to know about Russia’s upcoming presidential election

“Each candidate presents juxtaposed ideologies and domestic policies, but collectively these contribute to Putin’s goal of tightening his grip on Russia during his next presidential term,” noted Callum Fraser of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in a column, “Putin’s Grand Plan for Russia’s 2024 Elections“.

According to Putin’s critics, these three quasi-opponents, integrated into the Russian political system, perform an important function: to channel the discontent of various strata of society and provide a pluralist veneer for the vote, while the real opposition has been wiped out by years of repression.

“Throughout history, Russian power has always been extremely careful to respect formal rules. Even a very authoritarian regime faces public opinion and cares about it. This election remains a test of Putin’s legitimacy and popularity. Even if this test appears to be a formality, it has value for those in power,” explained de Gliniasty.

No political space for anti-war candidates

But not all positions on the political spectrum are represented on the ballot this year. In the lead-up to the presidential election, criticism of the Ukraine invasion was effectively suppressed with the arrests of tens of thousands of peaceful protesters. Hefty fines were also slapped on anyone voicing opposition to the war, according to international rights groups.

Two independent presidential hopeful running on anti-war platforms, Yekaterina Duntsova and Boris Nadezhdin, were barred from running by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC).

While the CEC barred Duntsova in December, Nadezhdin’s candidacy attracted attention, with thousands lining up in cities across Russia in January to give their signatures supporting the anti-war candidate.

That did not work in Nadezhdin’s favour.

“The question obviously arose of leaving out a voice that could have played a symbolic role and brought in, dare I say it, left-leaning, liberal voters. Boris Nadezhdin could have stood for election if he had achieved a modest score, but faced with the enthusiasm generated by his candidacy, the Kremlin preferred to send him packing,” explained de Gliniasty.

A ‘noon vote’ campaign for Navalny supporters

Despite the sweeping crackdowns, some of Putin’s opponents have vowed to express their opposition at the polls. On March 5, Alexei Navalny’s widow Yulia Navalnaya called the election a “masquerade” and urged Russians to cast protest votes.

“You can vote for any candidate except Putin. You can spoil your ballot paper, you can write ‘Navalny’ in big letters,” she urged.

In an action called “Noon against Putin”, Navalny supporters plan to go to their local polling station on Sunday exactly at midday, stand in line for a voting slip, and then vote in a way that expresses their protest.

Such social mobilisation comes with serious risks. Some Navalny supporters received letters last week warning them that prosecutors had reason to believe they will be participating in an illegal event that “bore signs of extremist activity”, an accusation Russia often levies at enemies of the Kremlin. 

The ‘non-war’ across the border

Although the outcome of the vote is certain, the authorities have gone through great lengths to encourage Russians to go to the polls, dialing up the patriotism and presenting the vote as an essential step towards “victory” in Ukraine.

Over the past few weeks, Putin did several media appearances with the heroes of the “special military operation”, as the Ukraine war is still called in Russia.

But the campaign did not feature any debate on the conflict in Russia’s neighbouring state.

“One might have expected the subject of war to be central to the election campaign,” said Anna Colin-Lebedev, a specialist in post-Soviet societies at Paris-Nanterre University. “However, the debates – which did not excite the Russian public – were mainly devoted to other subjects such as education, culture, the economy, agriculture, demographics [and] housing” in what she called a “framed”, pre-approved narrative.

More than two years after Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin is attempting a tricky balancing act on the subject, according to experts.

“The authorities are caught in a contradiction,” noted de Gliniasty. “They want to talk as little as possible about the war in Ukraine, as if to say that everything is fine, that everything is normal and that it’s just a special operation. But at the same time, it wants this election to serve to legitimise the invasion.” 

Read more‘I know Putin can eliminate me’: Russian opponent speaks out as election gets underway

The turnout barometer

Given the stakes, the authorities are deeply invested in keeping up appearances by holding elections under the guise of a functioning democracy.

“These elections are very important for the Kremlin,” Nikolai Petrov of London-based Chatham House told the AFP. “It is needed to demonstrate that Russians overwhelmingly support Putin” during the military offensive.

Turnout then becomes a critical issue, as it does in most authoritarian countries holding questionable elections.

Some managers at state companies have ordered employees to vote – even asking them to submit photographs of their ballot papers, reported Reuters, quoting six sources who did not want to be named. Cash machines also remind Russians to vote. And in Russian-occupied Ukraine, residents have complained of pro-Russian collaborators with ballot boxes going from house to house looking for voters accompanied by armed soldiers. 

Then there’s the question of vote-rigging.

“Parliamentary elections may be rigged in Russia, but presidential elections are not,” de Gliniasty said. “There are cameras and observers in polling stations. There’s no need for rigging because everything has been cleaned up beforehand so the result will be perfectly acceptable.” 

But given the context of the Ukraine war and the hardening stance of the Russian regime, “we cannot predict what will happen in these elections”, admitted the former French ambassador.

Putin won nearly 77 percent of the vote in 2018, 14 points more than in 2012. At the country’s helm for almost a quarter-century, the indisputable master of the Kremlin has yet to name a successor. Putin signed into law a constitutional amendment in 2021 that altered term limits and will allow him to remain in power until 2036.

This article has been translated from 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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Senegal’s democratic record on the line as presidential vote delay sparks crisis

Violent protests have roiled Senegal since President Macky Sall abruptly called off a planned election at the weekend, with just three weeks to go before the high-stakes vote. The crisis puts one of West Africa’s most stable democracies to the test at a time when the region faces democratic backsliding and a surge in military coups.

Senegal’s parliament voted on Monday to delay the country’s presidential election until December 15, two days after President Sall stunned the nation of 18 million people by calling off a planned February 25 vote.  

The bill adopted by the National Assembly effectively extends Sall’s 12-year tenure, which was due to end on April 2. It was passed near-unanimously, with 105 votes in favour and just one against, after several opposition lawmakers were forcibly removed from the chamber. 

Its passage came as police used tear gas to disperse protesters gathered outside the parliament building and as mobile internet services were suspended nationwide to counter the threat of “hateful and subversive messages on social media”. 

The controversial move marks the first time a Senegalese election is postponed since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1974. It has triggered fierce protests in the West African nation, seen as a democratic bastion of stability in a volatile region roiled by successive military coups. 

‘Constitutional coup’

The decision to delay the vote, just hours before campaigning was officially set to begin, has exacerbated an already tense political climate, with Sall’s critics accusing him of cracking down on opponents and seeking to hold on to power.  

In a televised address on Saturday, the president cited a dispute between the parliament and the country’s Constitutional Council over the disqualification of some candidates, arguing that this had created a “sufficiently serious and confusing situation” to justify delaying the vote. 

His opponents, however, suspect the postponement is part of a plan to extend Sall’s term in office or influence whoever succeeds him. They claim he feared his chosen successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, was in danger of losing the election. 

Opposition figure Khalifa Sall, who is not related to the president, denounced “a constitutional coup”, while two opposition parties filed a court petition challenging the election delay. The president’s announcement also sparked the immediate resignation of cabinet minister Abdou Latif Coulibaly, who expressed his dismay at Sall’s move. 

“Maybe it’s just that when you’re in power, you think anything is possible,” Coulibaly told FRANCE 24’s sister radio station RFI. The president “cannot extend his term, it’s impossible”, he added.  

Senegal’s democratic credentials now hang in the balance, said political analyst Gilles Yabi, head of the Dakar-based think tank Wathi, pointing to a constitutional crisis brewing. 

“The situation is alarming because the Constitutional Council, which upholds the constitution and the separation of powers, has come under attack,” he said. “I fear we are entering a period of uncertainty and weakening of our institutions, starting with the one that is most important for protecting freedoms and the fundamental principles of democracy.” 

Echoes of deadly unrest 

Senegal’s political crisis has led to fears of the kind of violent unrest that broke out in March 2021 and June 2023, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests.  

The catalyst for the unrest was the arrest and later sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in a rape case his supporters claim was politically motivated. Sonko and other prominent opponents have denounced a drift towards authoritarianism and accuse the government of manipulating the justice system.  

In the run-up to the last presidential election in 2019, legal woes prevented opposition figures Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade from challenging Sall. Sonko was likewise barred from the forthcoming vote, though his back-up candidate Bassirou Faye is on the ballot. 

Speculation that the incumbent might seek a third term in office, despite a constitutional two-term limit, had further stoked unrest, until he announced in July that he would not stand again. 

“On April 2, 2024, God willing, I will hand over power to my successor,” Sall confirmed on December 31, in what should have been his final New Year address as Senegalese president. 

Accusations of hanging on to power mark an ironic twist for the incumbent, who had led the challenge against his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade in 2012, arguing that the latter’s bid for a third term in office was unconstitutional.  

“Sall himself had warned Wade that he could not stay one extra day as president,” said Yabi of the Wathi think tank. “Back then, he was very clear that any attempt to extend a mandate was contrary to the constitution.” 

A ‘democratic model’ for the West  

Sall eventually ousted Wade, his former mentor, in a run-off vote in 2012. Twelve years on, Senegal’s fifth president since independence prides himself on having transformed the country during his two terms at the helm. 

Sall has introduced sweeping reforms and launched major infrastructure projects, including motorways, industrial parks and a new airport. He has also sought to position himself as a respected and influential player on the international stage, championing the respect of constitutional order even as a wave of military coups swept the region, toppling democratically-elected governments one by one. 

His standing as the leader of a bastion of democracy in the region explains why Senegal’s international allies have expressed concern at the current crisis – but refrained from condemning Sall’s move. 

As a “model of democracy”, Senegal is of extreme importance to the West, said Douglas Yates, a West African politics expert at the American Graduate School in Paris.  

“American presidents visit Senegal precisely because it is a model of democracy,” he said. “And for France, it is one of the most democratic French-speaking countries left standing.”

In a statement on Monday, the US State Department said it was closely monitoring the situation in Dakar. It urged “all participants in Senegal’s political process to engage peacefully in the important effort to hold free, fair and timely elections”. 

On Tuesday, West African bloc ECOWAS, of which Senegal is a key member, expressed its “preoccupation”, encouraging Dakar to “urgently restore the electoral timetable”. 

Rights groups were more alarmist, with Human Rights Watch warning that the country’s status as “a beacon of democracy in the region (…) is now at risk”. 

The advocacy group wrote in a statement: “Authorities need to act to prevent violence, rein in abusive security forces, and end their assault on opposition and media. They should respect freedom of speech, expression, and assembly, and restore internet, putting Senegal back on its democratic course.” 

Despite the alarm, analysts have played down fears of a military takeover akin to the ones witnessed across West Africa in recent years. Senegal has never experienced a coup since gaining independence from France in 1960, making it a rare outlier in a troubled region. 

“Coups are a real concern given the pattern in the region, but Senegal is a unique case,” said Yates. “It’s had three peaceful transitions of power. It’s a consolidated democracy. Elections really are the only game in town.” 

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Primaries, caucuses, debates: Key dates ahead of the 2024 US presidential election

The US will elect its new president this year on November 5. Before that happens, candidates including incumbent President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump will have to jump through several hoops. The race to the finish line will be a busy one, fraught with caucuses, primaries, conventions and debates. These are the key dates to watch for in this highly charged year for US politics. 

The 60th US presidential election is the political event on everyone’s lips this year. On November 5, a new POTUS will be chosen to occupy the White House for the next four years. Both the incumbent President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump are in the race for a re-election and face a tough path ahead.

But in order to join the race to become president, candidates must first be nominated through caucuses and primaries.

Caucuses are meetings run by political parties organised at the county, precinct or district level. Participants split into groups according to the candidate they support, which determines the number of delegates each candidate will receive.

Primaries are held at the state level and allow citizens to vote for their preferred candidate anonymously, by casting a secret ballot. Results are then taken into account to award the winner delegates.

The Iowa caucus takes place on January 15 and is the curtain raiser, followed by the New Hampshire primary on January 23. The first major event on the calendar is Super Tuesday on March 5, when the majority of states hold primaries or caucuses to vote for their favourite candidate.

Delegates will then go on to represent their state at national party conventions before the big vote in November.

Iowa Republican caucus

January 15 – Republicans in Iowa kick off the race to the presidential election by holding the first caucus today. Up until now, GOP candidates have raced to make their pitch to voters. The outcome of the Iowa caucus is often a make-or-break moment for candidates vying to become the party nominee.

For Democrats in Iowa, things look a little different. They will choose their candidate entirely by mail-in ballot today and release the results on March 5, Super Tuesday. The decision prompted by President Biden is partly a response to the 2020 tech meltdown that delayed results and triggered hours-long waits for voters, but also a way of calling an end to a system he deems “restrictive” and “anti-worker”.

Republican presidential debates

January 18 – Broadcasters ABC News and WMUR-TV will host a Republican presidential primary debate in Manchester, New Hampshire. Candidates who came out on top in the Iowa caucus will be invited to spar alongside any other hopefuls who meet a 10% polling threshold.

January 21 – CNN will host a debate at New England College in New Hampshire. Again, the top three candidates from the Iowa caucuses will be invited to participate, as well as any candidates who “receive at least 10 percent in three separate national and/or New Hampshire polls of Republican primary voters that meet CNN’s standards for reporting,” according to CNN. “One of the three polls must be an approved CNN poll of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters.”

New Hampshire primary

January 23 – The first primary run by state and local governments will be held in New Hampshire, where participants will vote for their preferred Republican or Democratic candidate in a secret ballot.

Though the Democratic National Committee (DNC) suggested changing the order of states, New Hampshire decided to hold on to their tradition of going first. Biden had pushed for the first-in-the-nation primary to be held in South Carolina, a state that helped catapult him into office in 2020 and whose population is much more diverse than New Hampshire’s.

The dispute means Biden’s name will be missing from the New Hampshire presidential primary ballot this year.

South Carolina Democratic primary

February 3 – South Carolina will vote in the Democratic primary. President Joe Biden specifically requested the first primary be held here because of the state’s large African-American population, who he hopes will help recharge his bid for re-election. The primary is not competitive, but it will be the first electoral test of Biden’s situation, as many local Democratic focus groups have expressed their disenchantment with the political process.

Moving the first primary here from Iowa marks the biggest change to the Democratic National Committee’s nomination process in decades.

The Republican primary in South Carolina will take place a few weeks later on February 24.

Nevada primary and caucus

February 6 – Democratic primary will be held in Nevada.

February 8 – Republican caucus will be held in Nevada.  

Michigan primary

February 27 – Both Republicans and Democrats will vote in this primary. Michigan, a Democratic-run state, brought forward its presidential primary in a move opposed by Republicans. Republicans will instead choose the majority of their delegates during caucuses a few days later in March.

Super Tuesday

March 5 – It’s the biggest day of primaries in the US and often helps whittle down the scope of candidates in the race to become president. A third of all delegates are awarded on this day alone, which is considered the most important day of the presidential nomination process.

Both Democrats and Republicans will hold primaries in over a dozen states including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.

Democrats in Utah will also vote in their primary while Republicans hold their caucuses in the state. Republicans in Alaska vote in their primary.

Last primaries of the race

March 12 ­– Georgia, Mississippi and Washington will each hold primaries. Republicans in Hawaii will hold caucuses.

March 19 – Primaries held in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas and Ohio.

June 4 – The last states to hold their presidential primaries will do so on this day. The clock is ticking for those states which have not yet set their primary or caucus dates.

National conventions

July 15 to 18 – Wisconsin will host the Republican national convention in Milwaukee, where the party will officially choose its candidate.

August 19 to 22 – The Democratic national convention will take place in Chicago, Illinois.

These conventions are important because they determine which presidential and vice presidential nominees will represent the Republican and Democratic parties. In order to become a presidential nominee, a candidate has to win the support of a majority of delegates. That usually happens through the party’s state primaries and caucuses.

State delegates will head to the national conventions to vote and confirm their choice of candidates. But if a candidate does not get the majority of a party’s delegates, convention delegates choose the nominee.

The two conventions are also when presidential nominees officially announce who will run with them for vice president, draw up an election programme and launch their autumn campaigns.

Presidential debates

September 16 – The first presidential debate will take place in San Marcos, Texas.

September 25 – The only vice-presidential debate will take place on this day in Easton, Pennsylvania.

October 1 The second presidential debate will take place in Petersburg, Virginia.

October 9 – The third and last presidential debate will take place in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Election day

November 5 – US voters who are registered will head to the polls in the final day of voting for the 2024 US presidential election. It could take days for the election result to be known, especially if it is close and mail-in ballots are a factor.

It takes 270 electoral votes out of a possible 538 to win the presidential election.


January 6, 2025 – The sitting vice president presides over the Electoral College vote count at a joint session of Congress, announces the results and declares who has been elected.

This is the moment former president Trump lambasted his vice president Mike Pence in 2021 for refusing to try to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s win. As a result, the US Capitol was stormed by rioters and some chanted “hang Mike Pence” as they tried to stop the count. Biden’s win was later certified.

Since then, Congress has passed the Electoral Count Reform Act of 2022, which requires approval of one-fifth of the House and Senate to consider a challenge to a state’s results – a much higher bar than existed before, when any single lawmaker from either chamber could trigger a challenge.

January 20, 2025 – The president and vice president are sworn into office at the inauguration ceremony.

This article was adapted from the original version in French.

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Taiwan’s Lai Ching-te wins presidential vote, vows to defend island from China threats

Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), secured a historic third term on Saturday as Vice President Lai Ching-te won the country’s widely watched presidential election with 40.05 percent of the vote. 

Lai, along with his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim – Taiwan’s former representative to the United States – won a total of more than 5.5 million votes.  

Taiwan’s electoral system is based on first-past-the-post voting, awarding the victory to the presidential-VP pairing with the highest percentage of votes. 

Turnout on the self-ruled island was put at more than 70 percent with some 19.5 million Taiwanese eligible to vote. 

A favourite to succeed incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, who is due to step down at the end of her second consecutive term in May, Lai’s win was in line with previous forecasts. 

Lai ran against the main opposition party’s – the Kuomintang – candidate Hou Yu-ih , who came in a close second with 33.5 percent of the vote and the Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-Je who trailed both candidates with only 26.5 percent. 

Speaking as last results trickled in, Lai told a press conference that the election was a victory for Taiwan’s democracy. 

“We are telling the international community that between democracy and authoritarianism, we will stand on the side of democracy,” he said. 

In an election framed as a choice between “peace and war” by China, which deems the DPP’s governance as “incompatible” with cross-strait peace, Lai’s victory comes at a crucial moment amid rising tensions between Taipei and Beijing. 

Claiming the island as part of its territory, Beijing responded to the election results by saying that “reunification” with Taiwan is still “inevitable”. 

The vote “will not impede the inevitable trend of China’s reunification”, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Chen Binhua said in a statement carried by state news agency Xinhua.

President Joe Biden reiterated that the US is “not supporting” Taiwan’s independence, after Taiwanese voters rebuffed China and gave the ruling party a third presidential term.

Heir apparent  

Lai was sworn in as vice president in 2020 when Tsai won the presidential election.   

Labelled a separatist by Beijing, the winner in Taiwan’s presidential race has promised to stick to Tsai’s policy of maintaining the status quo, which avoids open declarations of independence while rejecting China’s sovereignty claims.   

“As president, I have an important responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Lai said. 

“I will act in accordance with our democratic and free constitutional order in a manner that is balanced and maintains the cross-strait status quo under the principles of dignity and parity,” he added. 

Lai has said he hopes for a reopening of dialogue between China and Taiwan following almost eight years of Beijing’s near-complete refusal to communicate with leaders of the self-governing island. 

But he also pledged to build up the island’s military defence, indicating that he harbours no illusions.   

“At the same time, we are also determined to safeguard Taiwan from continuing threats and intimidation from China,” he said.  

Lai told the press conference that the Taiwanese people have “successfully resisted efforts from external forces to influence this election”. 

Read more‘People don’t want to talk about war’: Taiwan civil defence battles invasion risk denial

China relations 

Warning against continued DPP rule, China has upped the pressure on Taiwan ahead of elections by flying balloons in the Taiwan Strait and threatening trade measures against Taipei, which accused Bejing of “economic coercion”.  

“He [Lai] will carry on Tsai’s China approach: any dialogue with Beijing must be held with mutual respect and on an equal basis,” said Chang Chun-hao, professor of political science at Tunghai University in Taiwan.   

“The bottom line remains Taiwan’s sovereignty which they [Lai and the DPP] seek to guarantee by rejecting the 1992 consensus,” Chang said.    

The 1992 consensus refers to a tacit understanding between the Kuomintang (KMT) – which governed Taiwan at the time – and the Chinese Communist Party that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge that there is “one China”, with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means. 

“Lai is looking to maintain the status quo … which [for the DPP] means China and Taiwan are two separate, sovereign nations,” said Chen Fang-yu, assistant professor of political science at Soochow University in Taiwan.    

Split parliament 

Meanwhile cross-strait relations would also depend on the government’s grip over parliament, which has greatly diminished with the election of numerous legislators from the KMT, Chang said. 

Taiwan’s legislative election was held simultaneously with the presidential vote with results showing a split parliament with no single majority.  

“The DPP performed quite badly in the legislative election, they’re going to meet heavy resistance from the blue party [KMT] in the next term of the Legislative Yuan,” Chang said. 

The KMT won 39 out of 113 seats in parliament compared to the DPP’s 38. 

“China, however, may find itself with new communication and exchange channels in Taiwan thanks to KMT legislators, which would help them in their goal of reunification,” he said 

“This [split parliament] also means uncertainty for domestic politics, which may increase the US’s doubts about Taiwan,” he added.  

While the tone for relations between Taiwan and China will partly be determined by Saturday’s outcome, the upcoming presidential election in the US will also play a huge role.  

“The 2024 US election is also crucial to cross-strait relations, whether it be Biden’s re-election or Trump’s return to power … this will play a big part in geopolitics between the US, China and Taiwan,” Chang said. 

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Taiwanese youth voice income, housing concerns ahead of crucial elections

While cross-strait relations remain an overarching theme in Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections this weekend, many young voters are more concerned with domestic issues, such as low wages and housing, that preoccupy them as much as or even more than the threat of an invasion by the People’s Republic of China. FRANCE 24 met with several of them. 

Some 19.5 million Taiwanese are eligible to vote in the island’s presidential and legislative elections on Saturday, January 13. Some 2.8 million, or 15 percent, are aged between 20 and 29 years old. 

Voters will determine Taiwan’s next leader from among three candidates: the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Lai Ching-te, the Kuomintang (KMT)’s Hou Yu-ih and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP)’s Ko Wen-je. 

Incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence DPP is due to step down at the end of her second consecutive term in May.     

Read moreTaiwan’s presidential election: Who are the candidates in the high-stakes vote?

Despite not being a large enough cohort to determine the outcome of an election, young people nevertheless represent a sizable chunk of Taiwan’s electorate capable of tipping the scales in a neck-and-neck race. 

With less than a day to go before the election, political groups have called on young people to return home and vote.  

Taiwan’s voting system relies on household registrations to determine voter eligibility. Despite moving to other cities for work and study, many young Taiwanese remain registered in their home town, so they must return in order to vote. 

While many have already bought tickets and packed their bags for the weekend, some remain uncertain whether they’ll cast their ballots on Saturday.  

Eligible youth participation in the past two elections ranged from 56.3 to 72.7 percent

Stagnant wages 

“I still haven’t decided yet if I’m going to vote … if I do, I’ll take the bus first thing tomorrow morning,” said Wang Miao, a 25-year-old woman working in Taipei’s IT sector.  

Wang’s hometown is in Kaohsiung, a southern port city over 400km from the capital. 

“The thing is, I don’t feel like the elections are going to change anything … Wages are low, and inflation is still high,” she said. 

IT worker Wang Miao pictured in Penghu County. © Wang Miao

While median wages in Taiwan grew 2.37 percent in 2023, average consumer prices increased by 2.5 percent over the same period, outpacing wage growth.  

“My company gave us a 1.5 percent raise last year, which is ridiculous compared to inflation,” said Xu Jing-chen, a 29-year-old engineer working in Hsinchu, a city southwest of Taipei.  

On the way back home to the coastal city of Tainan, Xu said he feels frustrated at the current politics because the available options seem unlikely to resolve the issues that young people face. 

“They’re all talking about raising the minimum wage, but I don’t make the minimum, so how does that affect me? I’m only voting out of civil duty … As far as I can tell, none of the candidates are offering any concrete solutions to improve our lives,” he said. 

While Lai proposes to increase the monthly minimum wage of publicly traded companies’ employees to 30,000 New Taiwan Dollars (NTD) (or €880.40), Hou proposes a general hike of minimum wage to NTD 33,000 (€968.70) from the current NTD 27,470 (€806.37). Both are significantly lower than the NTD 43,166 (€1265.13) median wage in Taiwan. 

“The only option for me, if I want to increase my salary, is to move abroad, maybe to the US. But my parents are here, my home is here,” Xu said.  

Hoping to start a family with his girlfriend, Xu said he has been looking to purchase an apartment in Hsinchu. 

Unaffordable housing 

“The market is crazy. A simple two-bedroom can cost over NTD 10 million (around €292,000), and that is without a parking space!” Xu said. 

Due to low interest rates, tax cuts and market speculation, housing in Taiwan is notoriously unaffordable, with an average unit costing over 9 times the median annual wage, far exceeding the price-to-income ratio of 3 times the annual wage recommended by the UN.  

Other young Taiwanese also talk about housing concerns. 

Wu Qian-hue, a 26-year-old graduate student working part-time and living with her parents in the suburbs of Taichung, a bustling city in central Taiwan, said soaring rents have prevented her from moving out. 

“What’s the point? I can barely pay for my daily expenses and that’s it. I barely have any savings, everything I make goes to pay my bills. There’s nothing left at the end of the month. Living with my family helps me avoid getting into debt,” she said. 

“One day I’d like to have a place of my own, but for now it’s a dream,” Wu said, lamenting her city’s high housing costs.  

“Everything’s more expensive now … House prices in Taipei are crazy. For now, I can only afford to rent. I’m glad [that] I receive a subsidy for it,” said Pheonix Hung, a 27-year-old artist working in Taipei.  

Hung added that she plans to vote for Lai in the upcoming presidential election because of his party’s policies on housing, which introduced rent subsidies for single people and households with young children in 2019.  

Taiwanese artist Pheonix Hung pictured in Taipei.
Taiwanese artist Pheonix Hung pictured in Taipei. © Phoenix Hung

Computer science student and first-time voter Sung Zhi-ming, 22, said he chose to remain in accommodations provided by his university, where he shares a room with three other students, because of high rents. 

“I don’t really have a choice. It’s either this or back home, which is too far to commute every day,” said Sung, who comes from Hualian, a city on Taiwan’s east coast. 

Sung said he plans to vote for the Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-je, a candidate popular among younger generations for his outspoken manner and focus on domestic issues. 

Both Ko and Lai propose to tax vacant properties to encourage owners to put them on the rental market.  

Cross-strait relations 

But Taiwan’s relations with its giant neighbour remain at the forefront of some young people’s minds. 

Sung, who finished his military service last year, said he’s worried about a potential Chinese invasion

Taiwan requires all male citizens of military age to serve for four months in the national army, a period that was extended to one year starting in 2024. 

“I know we hear about it all the time, Chinese drills, Chinese balloons and Chinese ships in the Taiwan Strait, and we’re all kind of numb, by the end of the day … but at the same time, you can’t not think about it,” he said.

Read more‘People don’t want to talk about war’: Taiwan civil defence battles invasion risk denial

Sung said he plans to vote for the KMT, a party that favours closer ties with Beijing, in Saturday’s legislative election. 

“My parents have always voted for the KMT. … We feel like they are more capable of making peace with China. We don’t want a war,” he said.  

While echoing Sung’s sentiments, Wu said she prefers to vote for the DPP. 

Although both parties aim to maintain the status quo, the DPP differs from the KMT ideologically in that it rejects the “One China” principle. The “One China” principle is a diplomatic consensus between mainland China and the KMT that only one “China” exists, without the sides agreeing about which country is the “real” China. 

“They’ve [the DPP] managed to safeguard Taiwan’s independence, despite the pressure from China … We can’t appease China forever; we have to stand up for ourselves,” she said.  

“Of course, I worry about war, but what can you do? It’s not really up to us whether China will invade or not, is it?” Wu said.  

“At the end of the day, you just have to live with it and carry on,” Wang said. 

“The threat of invasion isn’t going to go away any time soon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t care for other issues. We have all sorts of problems, and China is not the biggest one,” she said.  

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