On paper, Sall wins Senegal

2012-03-24 14:34

The conduct and outcome of today’s presidential election will be a key test for Senegal.

The country’s 5.3 million registered voters have a choice between the outgoing incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade, and one of his former prime ministers and disciples, Macky Sall.

On paper, Sall should be the winner, having gained the endorsement of all the eliminated candidates from the first ballot in February as well as the influential backing of Youssou N’Dour, Senegal’s musical superstar.

Between them, they won 65% of the vote compared to Wade’s 35%.

Policies and ideology are not what divide the two men.

The defining factor is age, with all the attention focused on Wade’s.

In office since 2000 and now wanting a third term, he is 85 years old and has succeeded – unwisely perhaps – in both extending the length of the next presidential mandate to seven years and sidestepping the constitutional limit of two terms.

“This election is a wasted opportunity for Senegal: it should have been about choosing between different visions for the country’s future, but now it is only about Abdoulaye Wade,” said Tidiane Sy, founder of Dakar-based Ouestaf News.

Wade could have retired as an admired statesman who emerged from decades in opposition with the slogan “Sopi” (change) and defeated the entrenched Socialist Party.

He marshalled the funds and international support to modernise much of Senegal’s infrastructure, transforming Dakar and its hinterland.

But the poor and the jobless young are unimpressed.

The 50-year-old Sall can readily portray Wade as a geriatric clinging to office, amassing the family fortunes and secretly angling to install his widely unpopular son Karim as his successor.

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