Senegal: Early returns indicate runoff

Early reports of returns from Senegal’s presidential election yesterday indicate that current president Abdoulaye Wade leads former prime minister Macky Sall in the first-round ballot by only a 24% to 21% margin, although other reports claimed Wade had around 32% to Sall’s 28%.

Without an outright majority, Wade (pictured above, top) would be forced into a runoff with Sall (pictured above, below) — presumably given the massive opposition to Wade’s run on the basis of a constitutional limit of two terms, it can be expected that the opposition, headed by M23 and other umbrella groups, including supporters of Youssou N’Dour (the popular rapper who was not permitted to stand in the presidential election), will unite behind Sall in the second round.

Given Senegal’s tradition as a nation that has generally respected democratic norms — there have been no coups and no civil wars there since independence in 1960 — Wade would presumably recognize a Sall second-round victory and step down from office.

The next key date is Friday, March 2, when official results are announced.

In the meanwhile, who is Sall? One of the 13 opposition candidates permitted to run against Wade, Sall would be the first Senegalese president to be born after independence (in 1961).  Sall served as prime minister under Wade from 2004 to 2007 and as president of the national assembly from 2007 to 2008.  He was removed in November 2008 after holding hearings investigating corruption by Wade’s son, Karim, a future potential competitor for the Senegalese presidency.  Wade supporters, in turning on Sall, charged him of money launudering.

So a Wade-Sall runoff would not necessarily represent a rupture in Senegalese governance.  In fact, it would appear to be even less radical a transition than Wade’s own victory in 2000, which ended the nearly 20-year presidency of Abdou Diouf and the 40-year reign of Senegal’s Parti Socialiste.  After that election, Doiuf stood down and permitted a peaceful transition to Wade.

Nonetheless, given Wade’s unpopularity — he’s done little in office in the past 12 years — and given the way in which Wade has disregarded constitutional term limits (he is running on the technicality that the term limits were instituted in his first term, thereby allowing him the opportunity for reelection), it appears initially that Sall would be the recipient of unified second-round opposition support.

Another former Wade ally, Moustapha Niasse, is set to place third with around 13% of the vote, and has pledged to support an anti-Wade coalition for the second round.  Current Parti Socialiste candidate Ousmane Tanor Dieng looked to finish with about 10% of the vote and he and others have appeared at various rallies held by M23 (June 23 movement), a group formed as a common opposition to Wade’s reelection bid, guaranteeing a platform for unification in any second round of voting.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has been in Senegal since last week meeting with various opposition groups facilitating a peaceful resolution to the tense political climate, which has culminated in sometime violent clashes in the closing weeks of the campaign.

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