Senegalese election - Wade slipping

2012-02-27 21:22
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Senegal elections

Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade is in a tight race with his main rival Macky Sall, according to early unofficial tallies from the most contentious poll in the west African state's recent history.

Dakar - Senegal voters have dealt a humiliating blow to veteran President Abdoulaye Wade's controversial bid for a third term, with early unofficial results from Sunday's elections showing a second-round run-off likely.

The 85-year-old leader's former protege Macky Sall declared a second round inevitable in the west African nation, whose reputation as a haven of stability is on the cards after a campaign tarnished by pre-poll riots.

Wade was due to make a statement to the media at 17:00 GMT on Monday.

If no candidate wins a majority of 50% plus one vote, the election will go to a second round, which could be held between March 18 and April 1.

While the incumbent's camp warned it was too early to judge the outcome, opposition newspapers were less restrained.

"Wade's world collapses, Macky snatches a second round," reported L'Observateur, echoing headlines across the front pages of the daily newspapers.

The incumbent is seeking a third term in office after circumventing a two-term limit he introduced into the constitution. He says changes extending term lengths from five to seven years made in 2008 allow him a fresh mandate.

The country's highest court upheld his argument, sparking a month of riots that claimed six lives and prompted international concern.

Cacophony of boos

The defiant leader was greeted by a cacophony of boos after voting on Sunday, angrily pushing one of his bodyguards out of the way as he beat a hasty retreat without speaking to the media.

Unofficial results show he was trounced in the small polling station by another prime minister, Moustapha Niasse, with Sall placing third.

Niasse campaign official Abdou Latif Coulibaly evoked an anti-Wade union in an eventual second round. "The principle will be to vote for the best-placed opposition candidate," he told AFP.

Sall, 50, who has a degree in engineering, is making a strong showing in unofficial results trickling in from polling stations.

"The figures in our possession, published in the media, and the trends from polling stations show that a second round is inevitable," he said in a statement on his website.

"I warn the sorcerer's apprentices against any attempt to confiscate the people's will. The massive rejection of the outgoing president has been shown in the results."

Sall is taking part in elections for the first time.

The mayor of the western city of Fatick fell out of favour in 2008 with Wade, his former mentor, under whom he had held several ministerial portfolios and also served as prime minister.

However El Hadj Amadou Sall of the incumbent's campaign team said there were "no heavy trends" or indications that a second round is inevitable.

Playing his last card

While unofficial results were being released on public television and websites, the electoral commission will start announcing results on Tuesday, and has until Friday to give a final provisional result.

During a tumultuous election campaign in which angry youths clashed with police on a near-daily basis in the seaside capital, the incumbent swept the country urging voters to elect him in the first round.

Analysts have said he would fare less well in a two-horse race.

"Everything is at stake in the first round. He is playing his last card," Dakar-based sociologist Hadiya Tandian told AFP. "If he goes to a second round he has no chance."

Wade was cheered into power on a wave of euphoria 12 years ago, but his efforts to cling to power and line up his unpopular son Karim to succeed him dented his popularity, underscored by the jeers as he voted with his son at his side.

His supporters praise him for overseeing a development boom, but he is accused of focusing on prestige projects and being out of touch with the needs of the people, battling high unemployment and crippling power cuts.

The former French colony of some 13 million people is one of the continent's pioneer democracies, boasting an unbroken series of elections since independence in 1960. Unlike many of its troubled neighbours it has never suffered a coup.

Read more on:    macky sall  |  abdoulaye wade  |  senegal  |  senegal elections  |  west africa
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