Parliament voted to push the polls back to December after President Macky Sall announced a postponement last week.
Security forces in Senegal have clashed with hundreds of protesters who are opposed to the delay of the presidential election that was supposed to take place on February 25.
In Dakar, police fired tear gas on crowds and prevented people from meeting and gathering to protest, according to Al Jazeera’s Nicholas Haque, reporting from the capital on Friday.
“There have been running battles between protesters and police and security forces. Most of the demonstrators are quite young, many 18-year-olds. They were barely 12 when President Macky Sall came to power. They want to have a say in this election,” Haque said.
Less than three weeks before the polls were meant to take place, parliament voted to push it back to December 15, upholding Sall’s earlier postponement announcement and sealing an extension of his mandate.
But the move has provoked fears that one of the remaining healthy democracies in coup-hit West Africa is under threat.
In the capital on Friday, some demonstrators waved Senegalese flags, while others shouted slogans like “Macky Sall is a dictator”, the Reuters news agency reported.
At Blaise Diagne high school in Dakar, hundreds of pupils left their lessons mid-morning after teachers heeded the call to protest. History and geography teacher Assane Sene said it was just the start of the battle.
“If the government is stubborn, we will have to try different approaches,” he told the AFP news agency.
Sall, who has reached his constitutional limit of two terms, said he delayed the elections due to a dispute over the candidate list that threatened the credibility of the electoral process.
The decision has unleashed widespread anger on social media and the opposition has condemned it as a “constitutional coup”.
Some critics also accuse Sall of trying to cling to power, while the West African bloc and foreign powers have criticised the move as a break with Senegal’s democratic tradition.
“Senegal has perhaps never experienced a crisis like the one we are experiencing and we must overcome it,” said Senegal’s Justice Minister Aissata Tall Sall. “We must calm spirits.”
In an interview, Tall Sall said the postponement was not the president’s decision, but the parliament’s, and “was done in perfect conformity with the constitution”.
After parliament voted, 39 lawmakers in the opposition coalition, Yewwi Askan Wi, and several opposition presidential candidates filed legal challenges against the delay with the Constitutional Court.
Tall Sall said the challenges did not fall under the Constitutional Court’s jurisdiction. But she said the fact that opponents were turning to the courts meant that “we are in a functioning democracy.”
However, she conceded the postponement had pitched Senegal into unprecedented uncertainty.
This is the first time that a presidential election has been postponed since Senegal’s independence from France in 1960.
In a statement on Friday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell expressed concern about the situation in Senegal, urging the nation to “preserve democracy”.
“Fundamental freedoms, and in particular those to demonstrate peacefully and express oneself publicly, are fundamental principles of the rule of law that the Senegalese authorities must guarantee,” Borell said, and called on authorities to organise elections “as quickly as possible.”