Senegal opposition party sponsoring new candidate Faye after court blocks jailed leader Sonko's bid

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The party of jailed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko said Sunday it was sponsoring another candidate for the February presidential election, just days after Senegal's Supreme Court effectively blocked Sonko's own bid.

Election authorities have refused to provide Sonko with the sponsorship papers that need to be submitted by early December. On Sunday, the YouTube channel of Sonko's Pastef party said it now would sponsor the party's No. 2 politician, Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

In making the announcement, the party said Faye “is the candidate that Pastef will sponsor,” but specified that Sonko's candidacy has been maintained.

“Sponsoring the candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye in no way implies an abdication of the candidacy of President Ousmane Sonko,” the party said in a communique released Sunday.

“Everyone knows him well enough to know that to his last breath, he will fight without compromise. To sponsor the candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye is to defeat the regime’s strategy of rotting and launch one of our project’s many cards into the race.”

Faye, a tax and property inspector, is the opposition party's Secretary General. In April he was arrested on charges of “spreading false news, insulting a magistrate and defaming a constituted body" after making comments on social media.

Like Sonko, he is also now facing a slew of other criminal charges that the party believes are politically motivated. Those include calling for insurrection, undermining state security and plotting against the authority of the state among others.

Incumbent President Macky Sall ended years of speculation in July when he announced that he would not seek a third term in office. The move came after Sonko’s supporters launched months of protests that at times turned deadly. The ruling party has since coalesced around Prime Minister Amadou Ba as its candidate of choice.

Sonko placed third in the last presidential election in 2019, drawing wide support from younger voters. In the years since, Sonko has accused Sall and his government of pursuing criminal charges in an effort to sideline the opposition figure's future political aspirations.

In June, Sonko was acquitted on charges of raping a woman who worked at a massage parlor and making death threats against her. But he was convicted of corrupting youth and sentenced to two years in prison, which ignited deadly protests across the country.

___ Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.