On Sunday March 20, the Senegalese voted on a referendum proposed by President Macky Sall. While the referendum covered varied points in reinforcing citizen’s and opposition rights as well as legislative and judiciary powers, the most reported aspect of it is the shorter presidential terms. During his campaign prior to his presidency, President Sall promised to reduce presidential terms and with this referendum he appears to have kept to his word.

 

Sall’s referendum cuts down the presidential term from seven to five years. This while other African leaders are seeking to increase presidential mandates and hold firmly to their positions. Burundi and Burkina Faso have see violent eruptions in response to presidents increasing terms. On the other hand, countries such as Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Angola have had the same person in power for decades. Senegal stands out as an example of a sustainable and stable African democracy. This in spite of former president Aboulaye Wade’s attempt to run for a third term.

 

Senegal's President Macky Sall attends the opening ceremony of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2016. (REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri)

Senegal’s President Macky Sall attends the opening ceremony of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2016. (REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri)

Although Sall says the reforms the referendum will bring will bolster democracy, his critics have called him out for not keeping to his elections promises. This is due to the fact that the shorter presidential term will take effect from 2019, when the next elections are slated to be held in Senegal. Thus Sall’s first term will not be affected by this referendum. Voting turnout for the referendum was also not impressive at 38.26 percent, which is a small percentage of the Senegalese population. Nonetheless, there were over 2 million positive votes coming up to 62.7 percent of voters who approved the referendum.

 

This shortening of presidential mandate may be a positive sign to other countries. Other changes in the referendum include limiting the age of presidential candidates to 75 years old and allowing independent candidates to run for presidency. Opposition leaders will also be recognized by the constitution and enjoy official benefits.

 

Will this referendum lead to concrete changes in Senegal? Is it a tactic by President Sall to get a second term? Let us know in a comment below or by telling me your thoughts on Twitter @rafeeeeta