- Election fever grips West African nation of Senegal in presidential polls
- Incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade fails to emerge victorious in the first round against 13 other challengers
- Run-off vote expected before 1 April between Wade and former protégé, Macky Sall
Senegal’s presidential elections, which took place on Sunday 26 February 2012, occurred in relative calm, in contrast to the tense atmosphere in which the campaign season took root. The West African nation, typically applauded for its flourishing democracy and its unblemished record of years of post-Independence peace in a notoriously volatile sub-region, has been on the precipice in the run-up to the vote. The incumbent octogenarian president Abdoulaye Wade is struggling to hold onto power after 12 years in the post but civil society which has grown stronger under his watch has become irrepressible. When last year he sought to change electoral laws to enable a candidate to win with only 25% of the vote in a first-past-the-post system, he was opposed and was forced to withdraw the plan. When in January this year the Constitutional Court okayed his third-term bid for the presidency, he was also opposed. Civil society – mainly through the Mouvement 23 – has demonstrated its resolve to bring about change but in so doing, has been clashing with the authorities to the extent that at least six people have been reported killed in pre-election violence. But with elections now tipped to go to a second round vote, the opposition is likely to be more galvanized than ever, as the expectation is for opposition candidates to coalesce around Wade’s closest challenger, Macky Sall.
A Time to Vote
According to unofficial results thus far, some 58% of the eligible voter population turned out to vote. While this figure points to an engaged eligible voter population, it is still lower than in 2007, when 70% of the electorate voted. This drop could reflect the sense of foreboding which surrounded the polls, with one citizen in the southern Casamance region saying that “in [his] village, [they] did not vote, because [they] won’t vote and then die afterwards. The state is incapable of protecting us”, Le Nouvel Observateur reports. In the context of Casamance, the typically low-lying conflict which has, however, been one of the continent’s longest rebellions, has become more intense in the run up to the elections, with the secessionist rebel group-le Mouvement des Forces Democratiques de la Casamance- threatening the population from going out to vote.
That said, polling day surprised many because it passed off without incident. But for the most part, the voting was peaceful. Assistant US Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, reportedly said that he witnessed people “stepping out peacefully into the streets to make their voices heard where it truly counted – at the ballot box.”
View From the Ground
Things are calm right now here, people are waiting to see what happens. We were fearful of what this day would bring but it was calmer than anticipated.
Senegalese journalist based in Dakar
The Line Up
The Senegalese voter population was called to cast votes from among a list of 14 eligible candidates, of which two are female. The main figures are listed below:
|Abdoulaye Wade, 85||Parti Democratique Senegalais (PDS), founded in 1974 and has been Secretary-General of the party since then.||President Wade came to power in 2000, breaking the 40-year hegemony of socialist rule, ousting Senegal’s second post-Independence leader Abdou Diouf. Wade was lauded for his anti-graft drive, particularly in his first term in office but increasingly, he is criticized for a centralized style of governance. Daughter Sindely is Special Advisor to president and son Karim- suspected of being Wade’s desired successor- was given large ministerial post of Minister of State for International Cooperation, Urban and Regional Planning, Air Transport, and Infrastructure in 2009, his first ministerial appointment. Karim’s disproportionate influence in government has been vehemently criticized by the opposition.|
|Macky Sall, 50||Alliance Pour le Republique (APR).||A geologist by training and current Mayor of southwestern city of Fatick. First time he is contesting in the elections. Pledges to decentralize government and root out inefficiencies in the management of public revenue. Formerly Wade’s protégé, having served as his special advisor as well as mining minister, interior minister and PM. He was later appointed head of National Assembly following 2007 elections but in 2008, he resigned from his post after a fall-out with the president regarding Sall’s attempt to summon Karim before parliament for questioning over suspected profligacy.|
|Moustapha Niasse, 72.||Benno Siggil Senegal (“United to Boost Senegal”)||Served as private secretary to Senegal’s first leader, Leopold Sedar Senghor and served as PM for a brief period under Diouf. He was appointed PM again under Wade but only served in this post for less than a year after the pair fell out. Has served as special representative to the UN in the Great Lakes. Hails from one of Senegal’s powerful Muslim brotherhoods- the Tijani.|
|Idrissa Seck, 52.||Rewmi party (meaning ‘the country’).||Currently mayor of Thies, Senegal’s second city, Seck was once touted as a likely groomed successor to Wade. He was formerly PM under Wade until 2005 but soon fell out with the president and was imprisoned by Wade for almost six months without trial on graft and state security charges. Seck contested polls in 2007 and came second. Has pledged to privatise the energy sector in order to make its operation more efficient, given that Senegal suffers from frequent power outages.|
|Ousmane Tanor Dieng, 65.||Socialist Party||Ex campaign manager for Senegal’s former leader Diouf. He ran in 2007 polls and lost the vote to Wade, only managing to garner 13.5% of the vote.|
A Time for Change?
The full provisional results from Sunday’s vote have not yet been made available but at the time of writing, what appears to be clear is that no candidate has obtained the required 50% of the vote to avoid a second round run-off. In a statement read out by Wade yesterday (Monday), the incumbent leader said that he had garnered 32.17% of the vote with only half the ballots counted. While acknowledging that he had not garnered enough to prevent a run-off, he suggested that he also did not rule out the possibility of winning in the first round: “To all of my supporters, my allies, my sympathisers, I ask that you remain mobilised because at this very hour, the trend from votes counted in 282 out of 551 districts – or half the vote – give me the lead with 32.17% to 25.24% for my nearest opponent…so everything is still possible – victory, or a runoff.”
In spite of Wade’s seeming bravado in front of the cameras, the results thus far will be a bitter pill to swallow for a leader who predicted he would obtain a “crushing majority”. After casting his vote in his home precinct in a Dakar suburb he was greeted with jeers, to the extent that he was hurriedly ushered into a car without even being able to give an address to expectant journalists present.
For opposition figures, there is no question that the vote will go to a second round. Presidential hopeful and leading opposition figure, Macky Sall, considered that a run-off was ‘inevitable’. This is a situation that Wade arguably had hoped to avoid at all costs, reflected in his appeal to his supporters to vote hard for him in the first round during his campaigns. Wade would have preferred to forestall a second round because of the likely coalescing of opposition supporters around Wade’s main challenger, Macky Sall, which could prove to be an indomitable force against the octogenarian leader. The much-revered Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour who was disqualified from contesting at the 11th hour on the grounds of alleged procedural impropriety has already pledged his support to Sall. Meanwhile opposition hopeful Niasse has said come what may, the objective must be to keep Wade out of power.
Senegal’s pre-election climate was ominous- the frequent protests and election-related violence spoke volumes about the desire for change among the masses. But arguably, the biggest challenge to the status quo had been schisms within the opposition and the seeming absence of a cogent strategy. The long list of opposition candidates could have injected just enough division among the voter population to have afforded Wade victory in the first round. But as things currently stand, a second round vote looks to be the likely outcome. Civil society has at least been dogmatic in its protest against the status quo and particularly through the M23 movement, has systematically challenged Wade’s tightening grip on power. With a first round of voting which has widely been upheld as free and fair and with civil society emboldened even more than before, Senegal’s democracy is clearly in fighting form.