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Senegal's opposition pins hopes on likely run-off vote

Early results from Sunday's presidential election suggest Senegal's long-standing President Abdoulaye Wade may be forced into a second round by his former prime minister, Macky Sall.


Senegal’s presidential race appeared Monday to be headed for a run-off vote between President Abdoulaye Wade and former prime minister Macky Sall, with opposition leaders hoping a second round will push the 85-year-old incumbent out of office.

According to FRANCE 24 correspondent Fatimata Wane-Sagma, early unofficial results suggested Wade had failed to secure an outright majority in Sunday's first round of voting. “As in previous elections, the vote counting is being closely followed by reporters. I can say that we are facing the possibility of a run-off between President Wade and former prime minister Macky Sall,” she said.

“Wade had repeatedly said he was confident that he could get more than half of all votes needed in the first round to avoid a run-off ,” Wane-Sagma explained. “Now it seems his camp does not exclude the possibility of a second round.”

The rhetoric surrounding the elections, which reached fever-pitch before Sunday’s ballot and threatened to stain Senegal’s reputation as a stable democracy, was toned down on Monday.

“What is important is to allow the Senegalese people to express themselves and express themselves freely,” said Wade's campaign spokesman Amadou Sall.

Macky Sall, Wade’s main rival, avoided premature claims that he would face the incumbent in a head-to-head poll. “I will not make a statement for the moment, because so far we only have an idea about trends. For now the votes are being counted and I will wait for the process to end,” Sall told FRANCE 24 on Sunday.

Wane-Sagma said early official results could come as early as Monday evening, and a final count would be announced in Senegal no later than Friday. If no candidate secures more than 50% of votes, a second round would be held between March 18 and April 1.

Wade weariness

Wade was swept into office in 2000 amid massive support for his pledge to rejuvenate Senegal's political system. But, 12 years later, the octogenarian president is facing pressure both from the streets and from international partners to retire.

A defiant Wade was booed when he appeared to vote on Sunday. He quickly left his home precinct in Dakar, skipping a planned statement to the press.

Wade has angered his opponents by seeking a third term in office, despite a constitutional change made during his first mandate that bars president from running for a third consecutive term.

Wade argued that since the reform was not on the books when he came to power, his first term should not be counted. Senegal's top court approved Wade's candidacy in late
January, triggering numerous standoffs between rock-throwing youths and armed police, in which at least six people were killed.

Senegal with Sall?

According to Philippe Hugon, a researcher at the French Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) and an expert on Senegal, Macky Sall has a good chance of becoming the country’s next president if a second round is organised. “Sall lacks charisma, but he is highly competent and is capable of bringing down the tension. I think he has a good shot at winning,” Hugon said.

The 50-year-old Sall, a former member of Wade’s Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) who served as prime minister from 2004 to 2007, is taking part in a presidential election for the first time.

He fell out of favour with Wade four years ago, and has been planning his political comeback for almost as long. “Macky Sall has been campaigning across the country for the past three years,” FRANCE 24’s Wane-Sagma said.

A trained engineer from a modest economic background, Sall was one of the most vocal leaders on the June 23 movement that rose up against Wade. Despite being an economic liberal, and ideologically close to Wade, Sall could rally the divided opposition movement, IRIS’s Hugon said.

“I just don’t see the Socialist Party, which has lost a lot of momentum, backing Wade. It seems evident they would endorse Sall,” he explained. “If the priority continues to be getting Wade out, Sall is a credible challenger.”

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