Senegal vote: Wade humiliated

2012-03-01 09:21

Dakar - Presidential election results published late on Wednesday dealt a humiliating blow to Senegal's aging leader, who had boasted that he would win the race outright and instead will have to face his former protégé in a runoff election next month.

President Abdoulaye Wade, whose decision to seek a third term at age 85 has infuriated many Senegalese, got 942 546 votes, or 34.82%. That's far short of the 50% that he needed to win the contest outright, as he did five years ago when his campaign was run by his former prime minister Macky Sall.

This time, Wade will faceoff against Sall in the second round. Sall came in second with 719 369 votes, or 26.57%, according to the provisional results read by the head of the country's appeals court, Demba Kandji.

In third and fourth place were two other members of Wade's inner circle who fell out with him, including ex-prime ministers Moustapha Niasse, with 357 347 votes, or 13.2%, and Idrissa Seck with 212 848, or 7.86%.

The results are an embarrassing defeat for Wade, who experts said needed to win on the first round when the opposition was split in order to hold on to power. On the first round he was facing 13 opponents, and the opposition vote was split. His chances are far slimmer in a runoff election, when the opposition will likely be united behind Sall.

Wade's waning popularity was evident when he went to vote on Sunday. Instead of the usual cheers, the leader was loudly booed and heckled by hundreds of voters. The contest became less about the issues, which were rarely discussed, and all about saying no to Wade's bid for a third term, a move that many considered to be a violation of the constitution. It was the president himself who recently revised the law to impose a two-term maximum.

New page of history

"On Sunday, February 26, 2012, you clearly and with a great majority made your voice heard to put an end to the regime of the sitting president," Sall said at a press conference on Wednesday. "Two out of every three Senegalese chose to open a new page of our history. ... Senegal is at a crossroad."

The former premier outlined the reforms that he hoped to pursue if he wins the March runoff, whose date has not yet been announced. The results issued Wednesday are considered provisional until all appeals have been addressed.

Supporters erupted in cheers when Sall, in a sharp sable-gray suit and burgundy tie, said that he planned to change the constitution to reduce the presidential term from seven to five years.

For most of Senegal's post-independence history, the presidential term was seven years long. When Wade was elected in 2000, he reduced it to five. Then he had a change of heart, and changed the constitution back in 2008 to increase it back to seven years. It was one of 15 revisions to the constitution that he enacted, and critics began to accuse him of treating the country and its laws as his personal property.

"I will propose a reform of the constitution which will among other things reduce the length of the term of the president of the republic to five years - renewable a single time. And I am here to say that I will apply this reform to myself. I am committing myself to carrying out a term of five years," Sall said.

"And this reform which will limit the number of terms to two and the duration of the term to five years will not be something that can ever be modified again. ... The president is not a king. He is a man who for a limited time is given the right to govern."

Wade's reputation

In power for 12 years, Wade was once considered among the rare African leaders committed to democracy in a neighborhood better known for rule by strongmen. He spent 25 years in the opposition fighting to loosen the grip of the former socialist party, which ruled this former French colony for 40 years since independence in 1960.

His image began to suffer after he began giving an increasing share of power to his son, who is derisively called "the Minister of the Sky and the Earth" after he was handed control of multiple ministries including infrastructure and energy.

Wade's reputation took a nosedive when he announced last year that he planned to run for a third term. For weeks leading up to Sunday's election, protesters calling for Wade to step down hurled rocks at police in demonstrations that paralyzed the capital's economic heart.

The bombast that had characterised Wade's campaign was gone on Wednesday.

The president's nephew, who is the majority leader in the country's parliament, no longer spoke of Wade winning with a "crushing majority".

"What is important to note is that no one can ignore Wade's achievements," Doudou Wade said. "We will go and speak to the Senegalese with humility. They are the ones who have the final word."