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Senegal's anti-Wade front stumbles as election looms

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2012-02-16

Lacking real unity and seemingly unable to present a credible alternative to President Abdulaye Wade, Senegal’s opposition appears to be heading for yet another defeat at the polls.

Hundreds of protesters shouting "Wade step down" pushed their way to a square only a few blocks away from Senegal’s presidential mansion on Wednesday – the closest the opposition movement has come to President Abdoulaye Wade's home in two weeks of protests.

But with just one week to go before Senegal’s presidential election, the country's fractured opposition appears to be failing in its efforts to prevent the incumbent from winning a third term in office.

Riot police dispersed the demonstrators with tear gas, truncheons, and a water cannon, in a repeat of clashes that have dominated the capital city of Dakar in recent days. The rally descended into chaotic street battles between rock-throwing youths and security forces.

Despite the pressure from Dakar’s streets and international partners, Wade, 85, has rejected calls to withdraw from the Feb. 26 poll, which pits him against more than a dozen other hopefuls.

Senegal’s opposition June 23 Movement has staged several rallies since late January in protest at the decision by the country’s top legal body to allow Wade to seek a new term despite a 2001 constitutional amendment setting a two-term limit. However, the movement has failed to grow in size and has been ridiculed by Wade.

According to Philippe Hugon, who heads the Africa division of the French Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), the opposition has foundered because of its own divisions and the lack of a driving collective purpose.

“The opposition’s unity is solely built on anti-Wade sentiment, not on clear political alternatives,” Hugon explained. “Many candidates are former Wade ministers, who are similar to Wade in their political ideology.”

Hugon added that the voices of more youthful figures were also lacking in the ranks of the opposition.

The rural vote

In a text sent to reporters late on Wednesday, Wade claimed that he had been endorsed by 80 political parties and 875 committees of citizens. He also outlined his achievements since he came to power in 2000, which included quadrupling the nation's budget and many infrastructure projects.

Wade's support has visibly diminished since 2007, when thousands of people used to attend his rallies, and even more so since 2000, when tens of thousands flooded the streets to heed his promise of change.

But, according to IRIS scholar Hugon, the incumbent still enjoys the support of key voting blocks.

“He has the backing of religious figures, the Mouride Brotherhood [an influential Islamic Sufi order] is with him, and he has strong support in rural areas,” Hugon pointed out, adding that Wade probably had the majority needed to win the election next week.

“The real question is whether the election will be transparent, or whether violence will void the poll of any legitimacy,” Hugon added.

Date created : 2012-02-16

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