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All eyes on Senegal vote count after incident-free election

Carmen Abd Ali, AFP | Ballot papers for Senegal's presidential elections are pictured at a polling station at the Grand-Yoff middle School on February 24, 2019 in Dakar.

Senegal voted on Sunday in the first round of a presidential election that incumbent President Macky Sall was tipped to win after his main challengers were banned from running over corruption charges. The voting was largely incident-free.

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Supporters chanted “Ole, Ole,” and flashed “V” for victory signs as Sall cast his vote in his hometown of Fatick.

“The elected president will have to be the president of all Senegal. I hope this president will be me,” he said.

Official results are due on Friday with a run-off for the top two on March 24 if no one secures a majority.

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FRANCE 24’s Nadia Massih reporting from Dakar said that "regional figures are expected to be in tomorrow and the final national count won’t be until Friday".

But turnout is expected to be "up compared to the 2012 presidential election, sitting at around 60 percent, according to independent election monitors.

"At the last presidential elections, it was just around 51 percent," she added.

Such a turnout "is somewhat a surprise" and proves that "voters apparently weren't dissuaded from coming out to cast their ballot" despite controversy that "candidates representing the two biggest opposition parties, the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, were both barred from running because of allegations of corruption", Massih said.

Prime Minister Mahammed Dionne, a Sall ally and appointee, said early results showed Sall had won 13 out of 14 regions, securing 57 percent of the vote. "We must congratulate the president for his re-election in the first round," Dionne told journalists.

But opposition candidates Ousmane Sonkoa, a former tax inspector popular with youth, and Idrissa Seck, a third-time contender and former prime minister, “came together in a joint conference, even though they have opposed each other in a number of key issues in this campaign, to accuse Macky Sall of trying to steal this election from the Senegalese people”, Massih said.

Both Sonkoa and Seck said a second round of voting was in the cards.

"The results compiled so far allow us to say this," Seck said at a press conference with Sonko. "We will not allow the outgoing president to suppress the will of the people."

'Vote counting underway'

Universal healthcare

Senegal’s small fish-exporting economy expanded more than 6 percent last year, one of the highest rates in Africa, driven by an ambitious reform and development plan that included the construction of a new railway.

Sall had promised to deliver universal healthcare and better access to education.

After voting in Fatick, pensioner Adama Sakho, 81, said he believed Sall would win in the first round, praising his social spending policies.

“I’m retired, and now in one month I receive the same amount of money I used to make in three months,” he said. “He has the hand of God. Everything he touches gets realised. And he brings luck, because it’s during his reign that we found oil and gas.”

There are hopes of an oil and gas boom in Senegal as energy majors develop previously untapped fields off its Atlantic coast.

Opinion polls are banned in the run-up to the vote, but a survey by a Senegalese data company in November gave Sall 45 percent support. Of his four rivals now lined up in the smallest field of candidates since 1988, none had more than 16 percent.

Despite Sall’s popularity, some Senegalese question whether a high-speed train, new motorways and a swanky conference centre will benefit average citizens in the former French colony of 15 million people where the average income is less than $200 a month.

Many people do not have reliable water or power supplies.

University professor Bakary Manga, 43, said he would vote for opposition candidate Sonko as he was disappointed in Sall’s first term.

“It was a big nonsense with him. The cost of his projects is excessive, we can do much better with much less,” he said as he queued at a polling station in Dakar.

Rights groups have criticised the exclusion of two popular candidates.

Former mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, son of former President Abdoulaye Wade who was in power from 2000 to 2012, were barred from running due to corruption convictions.

The former president said the vote was being rigged and told supporters of his son to boycott the poll.

The government has dismissed the criticism, promising a free and fair vote.

The West African nation has long been viewed as the region’s most stable democracy, with peaceful transitions of power since independence in 1960.

Sonko told supporters at his final rally on Thursday he would congratulate Sall if the vote was fair. “But if he steals the victory, I ask the youth to walk to the presidential palace and chase him out,” he said.

At least one person was killed this month in clashes between Sall’s backers and his opponents in the southeastern city of Tambacounda, but campaigning has been largely peaceful.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

 

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