Senegal Election: Abdoulaye Wade pushes for win despite unrest

DAKAR, Senegal — Senegal is braced for a potentially destabilizing election Sunday, as President Abdoulaye Wade, 85, is pressing for a first round victory but this capital has seen almost daily protests against his candidacy for nearly a month.

This West African country, long the region's main bedrock of stability, has already seen unprecedented civil unrest in recent weeks over Wade's bid for a third term.

The opposition charges that Wade's candidacy violates the constitution's two-term limit and insist that he should resign from the race.

Wade himself agreed to uphold the constitution after his first election in 2001, and again after his second in 2007. But the five judges on the Constitutional Council agreed with their appointer that term limit does not apply to him in a ruling on January 27th, and validated his candidacy. According to local media, at least 10 have died in anti-Wade protests since then, in which police have dispersed crowds using tear-gas and force.

The violence prompted Amnesty International to urge Wade to rein in the police.

On Friday, hundreds of women marched from Dakar's Place de l'Obelisque through the city's busy streets to protest the uncharacteristic violence — as well as the candidacy of Abdoulaye Wade.

"Today, the mothers, the Senegalese women have decided to come out and show that they, too, have a right to speak on what is happening in the country," said Hadia Ba, one of the organizers. "Also, they are against the candidacy of Abdoulaye Wade, against the use of force to push upon us a candidacy that has no place here."

Other opposition demonstrations have been led by young rap musicians. World music superstar Youssou N'Dour tried to run against Wade, but was disqualified on a technicality. N'Dour has attended many opposition rallies.

There are about 5 million voters of Senegal's 12 million people. The GDP of $14.7 billion provides a relatively high GDP per capita of $1,900, but the wealth is not evenly distributed, leaving 54 percent of the population below the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook. 

In addition to protesting Wade's third term, the opposition complains of high unemployment of 48 percent and rising corruption, rated by Transparency International as a growing problem, with Senegal 22 out of Africa's 54 nations.

Others charge angrily that Wade is growing his son, Karim, to take over as leader of the country. 

Friday marked the end of the month-long campaign before Sunday's vote.

More from GlobalPost: 5 Facts about Abdoulaye Wade

Wade spent much of the time outside Dakar, shoring up his former popularity in the Senegal’s rural areas. He returned to the capital Wednesday, confident in his chances against the divided opposition — many of whom have spent the month trying unsuccessfully to force Wade out of the race, instead of campaigning.

“Their supporters have abandoned them,” said Wade at a sparsely-attended rally in a Dakar suburb. “They are welcome to join me because I am on the side of the law, the side of the constitution, and the side of construction in Senegal.”

Wade's supporters are quick to discount concerns over his age, and cite his improvements to the country’s infrastructure in the past 12 years, especially in the transportation sector.

“Look at all he has done. Before the old man we were stuck in traffic for hours,” said Abdoulaye Ndiaye, who was putting up posters for the president in his Ouakam neighborhood of Dakar Thursday.

Wearing T-shirts with the signature yellow and blue of his Senegalese Democratic Party, Wade supporters have been much more visible in Dakar in the days since he has returned to Dakar from his campaign tour.

“Here, the PDS gives people money to make their campaign,” said Veronique Sey, who said she knows the group who plastered Ouakam with Wade posters. “They give everyone 2,000 CFA ($4) and a T-shirt.”

Related: Wade shows no sign of relinquishing power

The octogenarian president needs 50 percent of Sunday's vote to avoid a runoff and remain in power. With a large campaign war chest at his disposal, some believe he will be able to pull it off — legitimately or not.

“He will do whatever is necessary to stay in power,” said political analyst Abdou Lo, owner of Primum Africa Consulting. “This is Africa. If you don’t want to lose the power, you don’t lose it.”

Wade’s government has repeatedly insisted that elections will be fair and transparent, but the international community is concerned for West Africa’s poster democracy.

The European Union has sent 90 observers to monitor the elections. The African Union has also sent a delegation, led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.

Ironically Obasanjo, when he was Nigerian president in 2007, was advised by Wade in 2007 not to seek a constitutionally-prohibited third term in 2007. Now Obasanjo is monitoring Wade's bid for a third term and could potentially mediate if the election results prolong the country's uncharacteristic unrest.

More from GlobalPost: Amnesty urges Wade to rein in police  

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