By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
DAKAR, Senegal – Sunday night marked the end of a long, contentious presidential election cycle in Senegal, the only West African country to have never been marred by a military coup or a civil war that reached the capital. At about 9:30 p.m. local time, incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade placed a phone call to his opponent in the run-off vote, former protégé Macky Sall, to concede defeat. Even before Wade conceded, proud Senegalese celebrated in the streets of Dakar in recognition of a change of the guard and a possible end to the violence that had left at least six people dead during the campaign.
“Senegal, in a transparent election, has proven once again that it is and remains a great democracy, a great country,” Mr. Wade’s press secretary said in a statement announcing his concession.
This election had been a source of controversy for months. The 85-year-old—but possibly older—Wade attempted to circumvent the constitution’s two-term limit, which he installed, by claiming his first term did not count because he served it before the limit’s passage. His decision was met by derision by opponents and civilians alike, who considered him to be too grandiose and, at times, a person who wasted resources. Youth groups soon targeted him through the use of highly critical rap songs.
The first round of elections took place last month. Wade earned the largest share of the vote, with 34.8%, followed by the 50-year-old Sall, at 26.6%. Twelve other candidates had their names on the ballot, and all of whom backed Sall in Sunday’s second round. As neighboring Mali stood on the verge of its first coup in more than twenty years, peace prevailed at the polls in Senegal, despite fears of vote rigging in order to ensure Wade’s defeat. It proved unnecessary, as preliminary totals showed Sall supporters outnumbering Wade backers at a rate of more than two to one, including in Wade’s home constitutency.
“The real winner remains the Senegalese people,” he said in his victory address. “We have shown to the world that our democracy is mature. I will be the president of all the Senegalese.”
For Sall, a geologist who once served as prime minster under Wade, the results signify a return to prominence after five years away from Dakar. While he was president of the National Assembly, he called Wade’s son, Karim, to the capital for questioning on public spending. This action angered the president, who was believed to be grooming Karim as his successor. From there, Sall returned to his hometown of Fatick, where he was elected mayor. He ran a platform calling for “a style of government that is more sober and efficient” than the extravagant Wade.
Wade’s concession and the presumed easy transition that will follow stands in marked contrast to contentious and occasionally violent fights for control in Senegal’s neighbors. But in this coastal country, where democracy has reigned, the voters turned to the polls to bring about changed.
“This is a great victory for Senegal — it shows the maturity of our democracy,” said sociologist Hadiya Tandian. “It shows that the Senegalese believe in their voter IDs, that a voter card can change something, can make a difference. It shows that our long democratic heritage continues to live in us day by day.”
General reaction was one of euphoria, but skepticism remains. Sall’s connections to Wade are well-known, and his statements could be a façade.
“We have never seen a president elected with this kind of landslide victory [in Senegal]. It gives a lot of political capital [to Sall],” said Senegalese political analyst Aly Fary Ndieye. “The question now is how will Macky Sall turn this win into political power. The biggest challenge now is how to effectively implement policies to benefit Senegalese people.”
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera — Senegal Opposition Celebrates Election Win — 26 March 2012
BBC — Macky Sall Senegal Election Win “Example for Africa” — 26 March 2012
BBC — Senegal Proud of Peaceful Election after Macky Sall Win — 26 March 2012
Senegambia News — Macky Sall Wins Senegal Run-Off Votes — 26 March 2012
New York Times — A Turbulence-Free Election in Senegal — 25 March 2012