Democracy News

Senegal Election Run-Off Scheduled for March 25
February 28, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg | Printer Friendly

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade competed against 13 other candidates in the February 26 presidential election for a controversial third term.  Although Wade had expected a “crushing” victory in the first-round, Reuters reported that Wade received 34.8 percent of the vote and Prime Minister Macky Sall took second place with 26.6 percent.  In an opinion editorial published by the New York Times, Landry Signé of Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law commented on Senegal's relationship to democracy: "Once considered West Africa's oasis of stability, now it is a place of deadly repression… A close look at [Wade's] time in office, however, suggests that granting him a third term would be terrible for democracy." This election will test the strength of Senegalese democracy either through the peaceful transfer of power from Wade to Sall or by the reaction of the people to Wade’s re-election.

Wade's Rise from Opposition to President
Senegal is widely regarded as the most stable democracy in West Africa because of its peaceful elections and its status as the only West African country not to have experienced a coup d'état.  After gaining independence from France in 1960, Senegal's founder, Leopold Senghor, created the Socialist Party (PS) and ran the country until 1981, when he left office and PS member Abdou Diouf assumed the presidency. 

Nicknamed "The Hare" by Senghor in reference to his cunning, Wade founded the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) in the 1974 and challenged the PS by creating the Sopi opposition coalition.  The PDS, which supported democratic practices and free-market economies, remained in opposition to the government until Wade's election in 2000.  Wade ran for president four times—against both Senghor and Diouf—prior to his election.  During his 1993 candidacy against Diouf, the vice president of the committee responsible for overseeing the election was assassinated and Wade was charged with "plotting against state security."  However, the charges against Wade were dropped, and though he denied involvement in the murder, in 2002, he pardoned the assassins tried for the crime.  

In 2000, the peaceful transfer of power from Diouf to Wade was hailed as a sign of strength for Senegalese democracy.  Wade, elected with 60 percent of the vote, campaigned on a modernization platform.  While in power, Wade has built schools and health facilities, as well as improved access to water.  However, despite Wade's promises to bring modernization to Senegal, the United Nations Human Development Index has not improved over the last 12 years of Wade's presidency.  With poverty and unemployment rates of over 50 percent, Wade's detractors have accused him of "squandering scarce resources in an impoverished country that depends on foreign aid," the New York Times reported.  Wade recently commissioned the construction of a $27 million statue for a neighborhood in Dakar.

Signé notes Wade's tenuous relationship with institutions: "Mr. Wade has weakened democratic institutions that he helped set up and has recreated in an even less democratic form some institutions that were abolished early in his tenure."  Under Wade the Council of State and Constitutional Council are appointed by the president; Wade also controls the judicial system.

According to BBC, under Wade's rule the climate in Senegal has gone "from mass celebrations to mass protest."  In 2001, Wade’s government drafted a new constitution that implemented a two-term limit for the presidency.  In 2008, Wade extended presidential terms from five to seven years, the Los Angeles Times reported.  Last year, Wade attempted to pass a bill to allow presidential candidates to win elections with 25 percent of the vote.  The legislation sparked protest and led to the creation of the June 23 Movement (M23) opposition group. 

2012 Election Controversy
Wade announced his bid for a third term in June 2011, claiming that the presidential term limit implemented in 2001 did not apply to him because his election took place prior to that date.  Although the international community and domestic critics challenged the legality of Wade's run for re-election, the Senegalese Supreme Court upheld Wade's candidacy in a January 2012 ruling.  Thirteen candidates, including several of Wade's ministers, were approved by the electoral council, though popular vocal artist Youssou N'Dour was barred from participating.  The New York Times reported that United States (US) Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said that “Mr. Wade's candidacy presents risks to Senegal's stability and democracy."  Both the US and France, the primary donors of aid to Senegal, criticized Wade's third term bid. 

Violent protests in the weeks prior to the February 26 election have resulted in several deaths, and M23 leader Amath Dansokho blamed the police for not using "all possible means to stop this constitutional coup."  Opposition candidates told protestors to show their dissatisfaction with Wade by voting against him.  Police have used tear gas several times against protesting groups, including in the El Hadj Malick Sy mosque on February 17, CNN reported. According to the Associated Press (AP), the government restricted authorized protests in the week before the election and allowed the use of force against any unapproved demonstrations.  Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom asserted that protestors intended to use violence after police claimed to have found pistols and explosives among their possessions.  Ngom then banned the protestors from demonstrating “due to a threat to public order.”  Alioune Tine, a human rights advocate and member of the M23, told AP that the group would continue to protest regardless of official restrictions: "Citizens need to come to say 'No' to the violation of our constitution, and to demand the unconditional rejection of President Wade's candidacy.  I want to remind the police that it is here to defend the republic. They need to refuse to be used by the regime."

Voice of America reported that the youth movement Y'en A Marre or Enough is Enough also protested against Wade's candidacy.  Three thousand youth gathered peacefully in Obelisk Square on February 12, supported by opposition presidential candidate Sall.

Former head of the joint African Union-Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) observation mission Olusegun Obasajo met with leaders of the M23 as well as the presidential candidates to ask both sides to maintain the peace during the elections, BBC reported.  Obasajo suggested that Wade serve only two years if re-elected, but neither the president nor the opposition candidates agreed to the plan. 

Election Day and Results
Although the weeks prior to the election were marked by the violent response to Wade's candidacy and against opposition protestors, election day itself was peaceful, BBC reported.  According to the New York Times, members of the opposition booed and "repeatedly expressed anger that Wade was showing disrespect for the law and Senegal's tradition of democracy" as Wade cast his vote.  Some voters shouted, "Get out, old man!," at Wade.

Results from the February 26 election were delayed, causing European Union (EU) observers to question the results, AP reported.  When the election commission announced that official results would not be posted for several days, Cristian Dan Preda, the head of the EU delegation, responded to the lack of immediate results: "It's completely regrettable that this lack of information is fueling tension and suspicion. The administration would gain a lot of transparency if it started publishing in real time the information that it has at its disposal. In the Internet era it's inconceivable that the Senegalese will need to wait until Friday to know the official results." Official results became available on the evening of February 29, delivered two days before the election commission had initially promised.  The EU observation mission did not report any irregularities.

The BBC reported that second place candidate Prime Minister Sall was "the only opposition candidate to run a real electoral campaign around the country, as other leaders struggle to mobilize people in street protests."    Wade, who lost in his home constituency, asked that his supporters "remain mobilized" as the country prepares for the next round.   Wade had expected an outright win, but Sall anticipates winning in the second round. According to AP, the opposition may unite to run against Wade, limiting his chances of success.  Sall has begun talks with other opposition candidates for their support in the upcoming run-off.

The second round of elections is currently scheduled for March 25.

For previous news on Senegal, please see:
Senegalese President’s Third-Term Bid Sparks Protest

Associated Press – 2 Rappers Arrested at Senegal Opposition Protest

BBC – Senegal: Former Nigerian Leader Obasanjo in Peace Bid

BBC – Senegal “Set for Abdoulaye Wade – Maky Sall Run-Off”

BBC - Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade Accepts Election Run-Off

BBC – Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's Rise and Rule

CNN – 3 Killed in Senegal Protests, Opposition Says

Los Angeles Times – Why is Senegal—an African Success Story—Becoming Unstable?

New York Times – Discontented Senegalese Vote for President

New York Times – Strangling Democracy in Senegal

Reuters – Wade Leads Senegal Vote, Run-Off Needed

Voice of America - Senegal Prepares for Run-Off Election

Voice of America – Senegal Youth Mobilize Before Elections


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