Senegal 2017–It is all about 2019

Senegal holds assembly elections today, 30 July. Prime Minister Mahammed Boun Abdullah Dionne says: “We aren’t talking any longer about July 30, but of 2019.”

Of course. This is, after all, a counter-honeymoon election. It may not seem like it could be, because 2019 is pretty far off. But the presidential term is seven years, and the incumbent, Macky Sall, was elected in 2012.

In Votes from Seats (Chapter 12), Shugart and Taagepera (2017, in press) suggest that a counter-honeymoon election is any held three-fourths of the way through the president’s term. The months since the president was elected (first round in February, 2012) to now work out to 0.77. While there is no hard definition of when the counter-honeymoon starts–Elapsed Time between presidential elections is a continuous scale–three fourths is a reasonable approximation, and Senegal is just past that.

The main points Taagepera and I make about counter-honeymoon elections are: (1) The president’s party tends to suffer a substantial reduction in its vote share, and (2) They occur at a time when the parties are jockeying for position ahead of the next presidential election. It is the latter point that the premier is signaling is important today.

In the book, we have a formula for estimating the likely change in the president’s party’s support in a non-concurrent election (see my 23 April post from between rounds of the French presidential election). It is an empirical estimate, not a deductive model, but the pattern it captures has strong logic behind it, and it fits the data very well. It states:


where Rp is the vote share of the president’s party in the assembly election, divided by the president’s own vote share (in the first round, if two-round system), and E is the Elapsed Time (months between presidential and assembly election, divided by presidential inter-electoral period, also in months*).

In the case of today’s Senegal election, the equation returns a predicted value of Rp=0.64. Sall’s first-round vote percentage in 2012 was only 26.6%. It would be pretty bad news for him, and for governability in the final 23% of the time to the next presidential elections (19 months), if our equation’s application to today’s election turned out accurate. It would mean his party would get only 17% of the vote. Of course, the actual share could be higher. Or lower.

Attempting  to predict the votes in this case is also made more difficult by the fact that in the last assembly election, Sall’s party, the Alliance for the Republic (ARP) did not run on its own. It formed a coalition in advance of the election. That is not surprising–the electoral system is (unlike that of France) a single round, and it is quite majoritarian (like that of France). Thus there would be incentives for parties who had backed the newly elected president to join forces, and indeed they did. The last assembly election had a strong honeymoon timing, with E=0.06.

My quick search did not turn up any disaggregated votes by parties within the United in Hope coalition that was formed to support Sall in July, 2012. And I have no idea whether some of the parties that might have joined it have already jumped ship (the second point above about counter-honeymoon elections would lead me to expect a yes to that).

In the 2012 assembly election, United in Hope earned 53.06% of the vote, with runner-up Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) way back, at 15.23%. The PDS was the party of the previous president, Abdoulaye Wade, whom Sall defeated. (Sall himself had won 65.8% in the runoff.) If that was a “normal” honeymoon, we would have expected the president’s party to have won 30.7%,  implying an additional 20% or so coming from other, post-first-round coalition partners.

The Wikipedia article on today’s election says that the coalition backing Sall includes the Socialist Party and the Alliance of the Forces of Progress. These parties’ candidates in the 2012 first round earned 11.3% and 13.2% of the votes, respectively. If we add those up we get 50.7%, which would actually imply little growth for the parties in the honeymoon election. (This is not surprising to me; the supporters of the defeated candidate would be harder to mobilize for a nonconcurent assembly election than for the presidential runoff.) However, perhaps we could use this revised figure in our Rp calculation. If we do, we get around 32% for their possible combined share, instead of 17% using only Sall’s own party. Anything much above 32% would defy the Elapsed Time expectations.

The Wikipedia article also says that the opposition failed to coordinate. The electoral system is mixed-member majoritarian. Around 40% of the seats are by PR (nationwide), with the rest in a mix of single-seat and multi-seat constituencies, using plurality (according to IPU). Thus even 32% against a divided opposition might leave the pro-Sall coalition near a majority of seats. But if his alliance is nearer 17%, governing could be difficult for the last quarter of his term.

The Senegalese system is semi-presidential, of the premier-presidential subtype. Thus the cabinet can fall if it lacks the confidence of the assembly majority, but the president has significant powers (he does not require an investiture vote to install the cabinet and he has a legislative veto). Cohabitation is a possibility, but so is a reshuffled pro-Sall cabinet.


* In the book, we actually calculate E based off the precise date, but here I have just used whole months.