On March 25, Senegal will go to the polls to choose between the incumbent president bent on seeking a third-term and his former Prime Minister Macky Sall. First round results put Wade at 34,82 percent of the vote against 26,57 percent for Macky (as he is widely referred to.) President Wade’s failure to secure an absolute majority in the first round has drawn the battle lines between him and his former prime minister, who is unlikely to settle for anything less than a free and fair second round of polls. So far, both candidates are approaching the campaign differently and are likely to spring surprises.
Given the background against which the entire electoral process unfolds, the stakes for the second round are high. The potential for trouble if the elections go wrong may be even higher. Getting the elections right is critical. This will involve concerted national and international efforts to ensure that the polls are transparent. Therefore, getting as many national and international observers on the ground in the coming days to monitor the polls is even more critical.
Gravely damaged by the controversies surrounding Wade’s candidature and the violent tensions that it generated, Senegal’s democracy and reputation for stability received a major boost following the successful conduct of the first round polls. Despite the several technical and political challenges that confronted the process, the polls were considered largely well organised. Both national and international observer groups expressed immense satisfaction over the conduct of the elections. The massive national and international efforts to observe the first round polls were primarily motivated by the need to ensure the credibility of the electoral process given the tensions that marred the it since its inception. Although, a number of factors could impact the second round, making electoral malpractices more difficult is the key to a transparent and secure poll. Therefore, the international community should keep the momentum to observe the elections and support local capacity to do so.
The Wade Master Plan
So far, both Macky and Wade are approaching the second round from opposite positions. Wade’s master plan is built around three inter-related strategies. First, unlike Macky, Wade has opted to build alliances with opposition parties’ strong men at the local level knowing full well that key opposition leaders that lost out in the first round will not support him. To upset the logic of the vote of confidence given by opposition leaders, the ruling Senegalese Democratic party’s (PDS), focus has been to secure the endorsement of the street level cadres of opposition parties that failed to make it to the second round. While some cracks have begun to surface within certain party structures, they are not sufficient to explain whether such weaknesses could translate into popular endorsement of Wade. Second, is to make solid inroads into areas where Wade heavily lost such as Dakar, Thies and Kaolack, regain and establish control over contested zones like Zinguinchor, Fatick, Tambaconda, Kaffrine and Louga while consolidating their grip over the PDS comfort zones of Kedougou, Sedhiou, Diourbel and Kolda where Wade won with a comfortable majority. PDS stalwarts have already started to hit the ground running and there are reports of targeted outreach missions hoping to turn the tide in Wade’s favour.
Finally, there is a concerted attempt to transform Wade’s patrimonial architecture into an electoral machine. Key to this patrimonial network is Wade’s enviable relationship with the religious leaders popular called ‘the Marabouts’ particularly the Mourid brotherhood. Unlike most West African countries, the Marabouts play a prominent role in the socio-political life of the country, although most observers argue that such role is diminishing. Already, Wade has started making the rounds in a desperate move to obtain the ‘Ndiguel’, a vote of confidence given by the Marabouts. In addition, is the incumbency ticket which is deeply rooted in the patrimonial structure that Wade has built over the years. Unlike his predecessor Diouf, Wade’s undue access to state largess has allowed him to cement his patrimonial architecture comprising religious leaders, the entrepreneurial class, middle level bureaucrats and local leaders. The question as to how long the architecture will hold in a society where the contours of politics are in constant shift has not been posed. Such shifting tendencies are widely referred to in Senegal as ‘transhumants’.
However, popular outcry rooted in widespread urban frustrations against Wade’s regime weighs heavily against him. Another key handicap to the master plan is the relative physical fitness of the President. There is visible evidence that the first round took a serious toll on the President, provoking legitimate concerns over his physical fitness to undertake any intensive grassroots campaigns. Many people view the delay over the publication of the results and its subsequent impact on the actual date of the second round as a deliberate ploy to allow the President more time to physically recover and help him re-launch his alliance building strategy.
Added to the above, is the apparent crises within the senior ranks of the ruling party which had slowly weakened its institutional cohesiveness over the years. First, there are evident tensions between certain party heavyweights that are very close to the President and those that are perceived to have a solid electoral base but are not in positions to influence the President. Secondly, the widely publicised succession saga involving the son of the President Karim Wade also generated serious frustrations within the upper ranks of the party. It is widely believed that it is the succession struggles that resulted in the likes of Macky Sall and Idrissa Seck both front-runners against Wade to quit the PDS. Finally, like most other political parties in Senegal, the PDS is not immune from deep seated frustrations emanating from a near lack of upward elite mobility within parties. Apart from the young ministers that President Wade has succeeded in co-opting along the way over the years, there are no visibly young cadres within the party that are positioning themselves as potential successors to lead after Wade. Legitimate fears have been expressed within the PDS itself that the party is not likely to survive Wade’s departure if they fail to win the March 25 polls.
Macky Sall: Keeping the Balance
The results of the first round polls confirmed the widely held views that Macky was the candidate to beat in the presidential elections. Following his brutal separation with President Wade and the PDS party, he immediately channelled his energy to building the Republican Alliance Party (APR) from below. He spent the last three and half years moving around the country, constructing solid networks at the grassroots level. In terms of campaigning efforts, he was far ahead of his peers which could partly explain why he was confident to tolerate and face a Wade candidacy. He is going to the second round more confident than Wade having secured the endorsement of all the other key opposition party and civil society leaders.
Unlike Wade, he has spent the last couple of years reaching out to the grassroots, which paid off in the first round, and this time around he needed to showcase his ability to assemble and lead a large political force in the country. He desperately needs this to legitimize his grip on the various opposition forces and exploit their added value. In that regard, a much larger coalition Rassemblement des Forces du Changemen (RFC) – (The Assembly of Forces for Change) – was established. Nonetheless, the viability of such coalitions to mobilise a wider electorate remains unpredictable particularly given the absence of organic relationships between voters and leaders of political parties in Senegal.
However, a number of factors works in his favour. First, his enviable political experience which has seen him hold various positions ranging from mayor to Prime minister. Second, his time in public office allowed him to also build a considerable network of friends and supporters across the spectrum of the socio-political divide. There are reports that he enjoyed immense sympathy from high raking PDS members including ministers. A newspaper reported that the Prime Minister was humiliated by the President for congratulating Macky after the release of the provisional first round results. Finally, Macky has the overwhelming support of the anti-Wade candidacy movement popularly called the M23. The M23 was born from the popular uprising to halt Wade’s constitutional amendments in June 2011. Since then, the M23 has emerged as a viable political force that unifies all the opposition forces as well capable of igniting popular protests against the regime. In addition to the M23, he also enjoys the support of the association of the national conferences (Les assies Nationales), a possible link to the grassroots. The M23 and the national conferences will be critical to help Macky engender popular uprising if the elections go wrong. Nevertheless, the M23 will need to move to transform polling day into another memorable M25.
Despite his pole position, Macky is also confronted with immense difficulties, such as the struggle to deal with the slow-moving tensions within his party and the larger RFC coalition arising in large part from competing demands made on him. How he maintains a balance between the demands coming from his own party as well as coalition members is critical to keeping the coalition together in the coming days. Also, since the inception, Macky knew that he is not going to secure the “Ndiguel”, his intention therefore was to dissuade the marabouts from publicly proclaiming their support for Wade. It is reported that an adhoc committee was set up to engage the Marabouts in that regard. Finally, some of the issues that most people hold against Macky are his initial links with Wade and the PDS and his openness to the west. Recently, he was criticised for his views on homosexuals. His declaration to form a parallel government if Wade determines to hold on to power either through fraud or free and fair elections was criticised as being anti-democratic. It is widely believed that such an option will likely play into the hands of Macky given Wade’s immense unpopularity. Any likely post-election crisis will largely emanate from such a strategy.
Since the constitutional council validated the candidature of President Wade and the ensuing popular protests against the validation, Senegal’s elections generated a lot of interest in the Sub-region and beyond. This is evident in the wake of the growing concern over democratic reversals in the region. Such reversals are evident in the problematic nature of electoral processes, political violence, constitutional amendments to favour third-term, weak democratic institutions such political parties and civil society groups. Therefore, the elections have wide ranging implications for democratic practises in the region. Several press articles on the Senegal elections in the West Africa region are critical of Wade’s third term bid underlining the extent to which popular thinking in the region favours regime change in Senegal.
Equally, the immense interest was also visible in the massive international support for the process through the deployment of multiple election observer missions. For the first time, the European Union deployed both long and short term observers to Senegal while the ECOWAS, African Union, Women’s Movements and a host of other organisations sent missions to observer the polls. In addition, the collection of civil society organisations for the elections (COSEC), comprising eleven local organisations, also deployed about 1500 local observers in addition to those deployed by the Goree Institute and the Catholic Church. A sophisticated situation room designed to provide on the spot analyses of the election process was also established by COSEC. All these efforts contributed immensely to enhance the credibility of the process. So far, most of the observer missions have expressed renewed interest to observe the second round supporting the claims made by many Senegalese and international observers that the country’s reputation for stability could well depend on the peaceful and transparent outcome of the polls. Therefore, the international community should also work towards, first; supporting local capacity to observe the polls and second, ensure that the Electoral Commission publishes the results in a timely and transparent fashion.
It is clearly evident that President Wade is facing his most serious challenge since he came to power in 2000. His desire to retain power in the face of growing opposition appears to be at odds with popular claims for change to an extent that even a Wade victory is likely to provoke popular protests. Nevertheless, Wade’s determination to reverse the tide cannot be dismissed out right, particularly in a country where the patterns of electoral politics are so unstable. In such a scenario a simple plan A is not enough. But we will have to wait and see whether he has a plan B. Although Macky goes into the second round as the favorite, he will have to work very hard to beat his former mentor Wade at his own game. He is facing the most severe test to his political career and the biggest challenge will be to translate his huge support base and expansive political coalition into a comfortable majority at the polls. Whatever the outcome, Macky has already positioned himself as the undisputed political heavyweight in a post-Wade era. The most urgent agenda items for a new president will be to restore public sector viability, provide jobs for young people and increase productivity to allow the country to regain its rightful place in the Franc zone. Nonetheless, a transparent poll offers an opportunity not only to tackle the pressing agenda items but also to restore Senegal’s image as a stable democracy.
Mohamed Jalloh is a West Africa political analyst based in Dakar.