Senegal picks MPs after tense election campaign

2017-07-30 15:26

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Dakar, - Senegal's voters are set to elect a new parliament on Sunday following campaigning wrought with tensions between the rival coalitions of President Macky Sall, his predecessor and Dakar's detained mayor.

Polling takes place between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm , with the first results due early on Monday in an election seen as a crucial test of support ahead of a presidential election in 2019.

More than 6.2 million people in the west African nation are registered to vote.

Sall will seek to bolster his parliamentary majority as he eyes a second term, while his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade, 91, attempts to drum up support for his own list of candidates and for his son, Karim, who is waiting in the wings with eyes on the top job.

"We aren't talking any longer about July 30, but of 2019," Prime Minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, who is running for a seat with Sall's coalition, declared at a rally on Thursday.

Sall's other main opponent, Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall (no relation), is in jail awaiting trial for what supporters say are politically motivated embezzlement charges.

The mayor had been seen as a key contender for 2019 and a potential threat to the president in parliament until he was charged in March with allegedly misappropriating 2.85 m in city funds.

There are a record 47 lists of candidates contesting the election, with 165 lawmakers due to take seats in parliament.

Fifteen seats are being set aside for Senegalese expatriates - the first time that the country's diaspora, estimated at half a million, will have direct representation.

Violent clashes

Police have fired tear gas and arrested dozens during at times violent campaigning that left several injured in a country normally known for its peaceful democratic traditions.

Wade attempted to campaign in a downtown square he had decreed a restricted zone while still president in 2011, an area just metres from the presidential palace. He was pushed back by security forces, leading to several arrests.

Campaigning was marred by tragedy on July 15 when eight people were killed as rival supporters clashed during Senegal's League Cup final, and a stampede caused a wall to fall on escaping fans.

Controversy also erupted over the failure to deliver enough new biometric ID cards needed to vote, which hundreds of thousands of Senegalese have not received in time.

The president asked Senegal's constitutional council to relax the voting rules so people without the cards could use passports or other forms of identification to cast their ballots, along with proof they had applied for the IDs.

Several political parties and opposition coalitions angrily denounced the last-minute move, saying it increased the possibility of fraud.

Tit-for-tat arguments between President Sall and former president Wade's camps have also erupted over the length of motorways and number of bridges built under their respective tenures.

Wade has accused Sall of "destroying" Senegal, while the president's side say Wade did not do enough to develop the nation while in power, boasting of their achievements in building a new airport and other infrastructure projects.


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