The Senegalese parliament on Wednesday voted to force former prime minister Idrissa Seck to face embezzlement charges before a special high court reserved for criminal allegations against government officials.
But opposition leaders are crying foul and say they will seek to have the vote rescinded.
Seck, who served as prime minister to President Abdoulaye Wade from November 2002 until they fell out and Wade sacked him in 2004, is seen as a formidable political rival to the 78-year-old leader.
Seck’s case emerges at a time when Wade, a veteran opposition leader elected president in 2000, is increasingly coming under fire for cracking down on dissent in the West African country.
In mid-July the Senegalese government charged that Seck misappropriated funds designated for public works projects in the city of Thiès where Seck is now mayor.
Days later a judge charged Seck with “endangering national security” and ordered him to prison until a trial.
Wednesday’s parliamentary vote was necessary because the body must consent to bringing Seck before the special ad-hoc court – made up of senior judges and members of parliament.
The vote was 69 to 35, with 16 legislators abstaining in order to be available to sit on the special court.
Legislators of the ruling Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS) are celebrating.
“This is not only a personal victory, it is a victory for the Senegalese people whom we represent,” Doudou Wade, president of the majority coalition in parliament, declared after the vote.
But opposition members say they will go to the constitutional court to have the vote annulled.
The constitution says parliament must approve moving a case to the special court by a 60 percent majority.
Opposition legislators argue the vote must be 60 percent of the 120 members of parliament – or 72 – not 60 percent of those voting.
“The majority is 72 of 120. That is the constitution, which is the highest law,” said opposition member, Moustapha Niasse. “If this passes, it’s by force.”
Opposition legislators have not yet said when they will formally lodge their challenge. If the parliamentary vote is upheld, it will be only the second time since independence in 1960 that a case is brought before the special court.
The government has alleged that Seck squandered 46 billion CFA francs (US $84 million) on public works projects that were budgeted at only 25 billion CFA francs ($45 million).
To date the government has not specified publicly its other charge of “endangering national security.”
Seck has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Seck’s supporters say the government’s charges are politically motivated.
Legislators on Wednesday also called for related charges to be brought against Salif Ba, a current government minister.
The 46-year-old Seck played a major role in securing Wade’s victory in 2000 elections and in helping to ensure an alliance that helped the PDS gain a majority in parliament.
Senegal is one of the few countries in turbulent West Africa to enjoy uninterrupted civilian rule.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions