Senegal Election: Presidential race goes to runoff


DAKAR, Senegal — After weeks of election unrest that rocked West Africa's most stable democracy, Senegal looks set for a runoff vote on March 18, according to unofficial results.

President Abdoulaye Wade's spokesman conceded Tuesday that the election will go to a second round.

"The numbers are clear, we are headed to a second round," said Wade's spokesman El Hadj Amadou Sall, according to Agence France-Presse. Full results have not yet been released.

Unofficial results show that Wade secured 32 percent of the vote while opposition candidate, former Prime Minister Macky Sall, took 25 percent of the vote. Senegal's constitution stipulates that the winning candidate must take 50 percent of the total vote.

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European Union observers also see a second round as inevitabile, said Thjis Berman, head of the EU mission. He congratulated the Senegalese leadership and citizens for their participation and cooperation.

"We hope that this cooperation will continue in the same spirit during the campaign for the second round of these elections," Berman said. 

Incumbent president Wade will continue his controversial stand for a third term against his former prime minister and protégé, Sall — who stands to benefit from the backing of the 12 other opposition candidates who did not make the runoff.  

Street protests against Wade's candidacy ahead of the vote attracted committed opponents of the president to downtown Dakar, where demonstrations were banned. The protesters repeatedly met with tear gas and rubber bullets. But the gatherings failed to achieve critical mass, which Wade pointed to as a sign that the Senegalese people supported his bid for a third term, despite a constitutional limit of two.

It seems that, rather, they were waiting for the vote.

"One plus one makes two," said Djibril Seck, a Socialist Party representative, pointing out that Wade had served the limit of two terms. "But because he is in power and he is doing whatever he wants, we don't have a choice but to go to the polls. But it is not normal."

Formerly France's favorite colony, Senegal has been voting since 1848 and many never lost faith in the ballot — even as the 85-year-old Wade displayed all the trappings of an intransigent Big Man bent on maintaining power.

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Some voters in Dakar's Point E neighborhood expressed their disappointment directly at the president when he came to vote there on Sunday. A few cheered as Wade arrived, but they were quickly drowned out by chants of “old man, step down” and boos and Wade was forced to push his way through the crowd.

Wade did not even win at that polling place, according to the Senegalese Press Agency, 

The constant stream of results through Senegal's radios and televisions throughout Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday indicated that the president would fall far short of the 50 percent he needed to win outright in the first round. Wade previously had been adamant that he would win but at a press conference at the Presidential Palace he took a conciliatory turn.

"I would like to pay homage to you, my dear compatriots, for the maturity, spirit of tolerance, and the civility that you have shown,” said Wade, whose statement was broadcast live on radio and television.

Wade's diplomatic statement was a drastic departure from his rhetoric and behavior leading up to the vote, which brought an influx of international observers and journalists to the normally-placid seaside capital.

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“Before the election day, we were concerned about the prohibition to demonstrate, which is against Senegalese law,” said EU observer Berman. “Also, we were concerned about the excessive, or disproportionate, use of violence by the police.”

Wade, who was already politically active at the end of colonial rule in 1960, dismissed what he sees as the foreign underestimation of Senegal's democracy.

"Together, by the civic duty of voting, we have discredited in the best way possible all of the birds of bad omens who rushed to the bedside of what they thought was a dying Senegal," said the president.

The wildcard remains the presidentially-appointed Constitutional Council that approved Wade's candidacy in the first place and will oversee the final results of the election, in the first and second round.

"If there is a second round, in which international observers and journalists are present and report that the election was fair, I don't think they [the Constitutional Council] will go against the will of the country," said political analyst Abdou Lo.

"If they are going to give [Wade] a hand, it would have to be now, in the first round."

The court is expected to announce the final results by Friday.  

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