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Senegalese President Faces Uproar Over Proposed Election Delay

  • Nico Colombant

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade is facing an opposition uproar after calling for upcoming elections to be delayed so that he can spend the money earmarked for the poll to ease flood problems in the capital, Dakar. This follows the controversial jailing of the former prime minister.

Opposition leaders are accusing Mr. Wade of trying to push back next year's legislative election to combine it with a 2007 presidential vote to make it easier for him to cheat and win both polls.

They also say he is very unpopular now, so they say he is using all the means he can to stifle his opponents and make himself more appealing.

Mr. Wade says millions of dollars in 2006 election money should be spent instead on relocating residents from low-lying Dakar shantytowns recently washed out in heavy rains. He said in these circumstances it would make sense to combine the elections and save money, despite opposition leaders saying this would undermine Senegal's budding democracy.

Mr. Wade said the government's motive should be to face what he called an unexpected catastrophe. Residents say the rains during this year's very long rainy season have been the heaviest in two decades.

Dakar-based journalist Oumar Gaye says Mr. Wade's proposal to delay the legislative poll for humanitarian purposes is very astute, but that it could have a backlash.

"He put the opposition into trouble, because if they say 'no' the population may be angry about them and many people do not understand," he said. "They do not understand what is really behind, but they will know soon. This is pure politics. President Wade is profiting from this occasion."

The proposal, which would need to be approved by Senegal's parliament, has for the time being quieted the other most recent opposition uproar, concerning the jailing of former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck.

Mr. Seck, who says he is the victim of a political vendetta, faces trial in a special court on charges of embezzlement and endangering state security.

Mr. Gaye says President Wade may also be trying to divert attention from that case.

"Idrissa is still behind bars," he said. "He has been forgotten because we no longer hear about him. Maybe in two or three days it will come back, Idrissa's case will come back."

Mr. Wade won elections in 2000 ending 40 years of Socialist Party rule, but his time in power has been marked by growing persecution of political opponents, including jailings and unexplained nighttime attacks, as well as high-profile defections from his ruling Democratic Party.

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