Wade steps out as Senegal election season begins

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade held an impromptu rally yesterday, touring the capital, Dakar, ahead of controversial upcoming elections.

Despite violent protests against his bid for a third term, the 85-year-old leader told reporters he still has the support of the people.

“As you saw, it was an improvised visit, but I think it’s clear that it was a plebiscite of the street,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “The people came out and greeted me spontaneously. This shows that the people of Senegal are with me.”

Senegal is known as one of Africa’s most stable democracies, with a long history of multi-party elections. When a court ruled that Wade could run again last week, despite laws prohibiting a third term in office, opposition leaders called it a “constitutional coup.”

U.S. Ambassador to Senegal Lewis Lukens called Wade’s decision to run, “unfortunate,” the AP reports.

“It’s regrettable that President Wade has chosen to compromise the elections, to threaten the security of his country by his insistence on running for a third term,” he said.

Fourteen candidates will run in the Feb. 26 presidential elections that will also determine a significant amount of leadership in the country’s legislative branch. The president directly appoints 65 senators in the 100-member house, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

The foundation says former Prime Minister Macky Sall is Wade’s most formidable opponent in the two-round ballot. As campaigns got underway this week, Sall called for the president to withdraw his bid, according to Voice of America.

"Respect for the constitution at the start of this campaign necessitates the repeal of the candidacy of President Abdoulaye Wade," he said.

Other candidates joined Sall in calling for the president's withdrwal, including former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck and opposition leaders Moustapha Niasse and Ousmane Tanor Dieng, according to Reuters. Over the weekend, eight of Wade’s main rivals agreed to campaign together, in an attempt to force Wade from the contest.

"We will take part in the election campaign in order to step up the fight … to force the withdrawal of the candidacy of Abdoulaye Wade," read a statement released by the group as campaigns officially opened this week, Reuters reports.

Amsatou Sow Sidibe, a lawyer and prominent human rights advocate, is the sole female running for the top office.

Last month, when the court approved the president’s bid for re-election, it announced that three other opposition candidates, including Grammy-award winning singer Youssou N'Dour were banned from running.

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