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Published on February 24th, 2012 | by Zachary Waksman

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Tensions Running High in Senegal Before Sunday’s Election

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

DAKAR, Senegal – Two days before the election to determine the next president, there is no sign of an end to the acrimony that has dominated Senegal since January.  Despite appeals from the international community, President Abdoulaye Wade remains in the race.

President Abdoulaye Wade hits the campaign trail in suburban Dakar as he seeks a third term, which has been a source of conflict. (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

The situation is unusual for this West African country, which has had free elections since the late 19th Century and has never been upended by a military coup.  Protests have occurred in downtown Dakar, the seaside capital, on a daily basis, leading local businesses to cut their hours of operation in half and send employees home to avoid the chaos.  At least six people have died in rallies against the 85-year-old (officially; he is rumored to be even older) Wade’s candidacy.  After his election to a seven-year term in 2000, the constitution was amended to limit the president to two five-year terms.  It was re-amended to two seven-year terms after his re-election in 2007, which he believes allows him to run again.

Opponents have another story.  Earlier this week, dissenters rallied along Avenue William Ponty, close to Independence Square, singing and chanting: “He should go! He must go! He has to go!” in reference to Wade.  The interior ministry banned events held in Independence Square itself.  Even his former ministers had become disenchanted.

“The Constitution has been violated!” declared Idrissa Seck, one of six former prime ministers to have served under Wade and one of three to be running against him.  “We must prevent the coup d’état that is unfolding.”

Wade’s election campaign continues in spite of the vitriol.  Amadou Sall said that the president was willing to talk to opposition leaders about their concerns.  As far as he was concerned, Wade’s candidacy was legal.

“President Wade is a candidate of a group of parties who support him and we have the majority of the Senegalese people with us, and the constitutional court said the candidacy of Wade is good.  So, he is a legal candidate,” said Sall. “Now, you have the minority in the opposition who contest and who protest and the make demonstrations in just two areas in Dakar and fighting with policemen.  These guys are losers.”

Since Tuesday, former Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo has been in Dakar as head of a joint African Union-Economic Community of West African States observer mission.  He has met with both Wade and opposition leaders about the situation, vowing to do more than observe if things do not improve.  After his meeting with Wade, the ruling party said that it would not postpone the election or withdraw its leader from the poll.

Hopes for success within the mission were running high when Obasanjo arrived in Dakar Tuesday.  But the reality may be much more harsh.  To Arame Tall, a researcher at John Hopkins University-Sais, breaking through the gridlock may not be possible.

“It is a stalemate. On one hand, Wade is obstinate and is at least 90-years-old, meaning that if he wins we would have a president that would finish his term at 97-years-old,” Tall told Al Jazeera.  “On the other hand, we have a highly divided opposition, animated by personal ambition – and they are also guilty of trapping the public because they simply refuse to unite and create a strong front to confront the old man.  The public has no choice, because they are faced with an old man they do not want and a fragmented opposition with no leadership.”

For more information, please see:

AllAfrica — Nigeria: Obasanjo Meets with Senegal Government — 24 February 2012

AllAfrica — Senegal: Wade Ignores Obasanjo Call to Pull Out of Poll –23 February 2012

Al Jazeera — Tensions Build in Run-Up to Senegal Vote — 23 February 2012

New York Times — An Atypical Unrest Troubles Senegal’s Election Season — 23 February 2012

Voice of America — Senegal Ends Campaigning Ahead of Sunday’s Vote — 23 February 2012

BBC — Senegal: Former Nigerian Leader Obasanjo in Peace Bid — 22 February 2012

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