Senegal gears up for elections amid violence

2012-02-25 15:35

People would have died to keep Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s name off the ballot paper in the elections that start today.

The 85-year-old head of state is seeking a third term, but his decision to do so was heavily resisted by Senegalese citizens.

Violence on this scale is unheard of in Senegal since 2000 when six policemen were killed in clashes between riot police and young people who protested against then President Abdou Diouf – the same protests which brought Wade into power for 12 years.

It is the young people who want Wade out now, despite the country’s highest court’s ruling last month that Wade’s candidacy was valid under the constitution.

“It’s a matter of interpretation, but the people are not convinced”, says law school graduate and journalist Ibou Kane.

“The people are losing trust in Wade, the same person who came up with the suggestion to limit the presidential terms to two.”

Kane said following his victory in 2000, Wade told Senegalese people that 20 years was too long for a president to be in power and that they should limit presidential terms to two.

Senegal’s constitution has a two-term limit but the constitutional court ruled this did not include Wade’s first term, which began before the clause was adopted.

Kane recounted how Wade himself pronounced that the country wouldn’t see him in the next national elections, after winning a sweeping victory in 2007.

“But when we remind him of this now he claims that it was not him, and even if it was, he has changed and he wants to stay, that’s why many people are angry,” said Kane.

This has led to the widespread belief that the elections, with Wade as a candidate, may not be free and fair.

Signs of foul play began on June 23 last year when Wade attempted to pass a law that would decrease the number of votes needed to win an election from 50% to 25%.

The Senegalese protested strongly against the move and rallied civil society, opposition leaders including Wade’s former allies, government ministers, and young people to demonstrate against it.

Wade dropped the proposal.

It is the same movement, M23 – which includes singer, Youssou N’dour, whose bid to run for the presidency was declared invalid in the same ruling that validated Wade’s candidacy – that is demanding Wade retract his candidacy.

One of the opposition leaders and election candidate, Idrissa Seck, said they didn’t recognise Wade’s candidacy in this election.

“We will continue to challenge him, and any votes he gains from these elections until he steps down,” he said.

Now almost every day in Dakar and other parts of Senegal, police fire tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in an effort to disperse a growing number of angry young people who throw stones and whatever else they can find in protest against Wade’s candidacy.

This has many people in the country worried, says Amadu Diaw, a street trader in downtown Dakar, where most of the rioting and clashes took place.

“It’s catastrophic, it is really bad for us,” he said.

“These protests are breaking people down. We don’t sell anything and when they vandalise or burn your table, you have to start again from scratch while they remain rich.”

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