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Election Boycott Threatens Senegal's Democratic Reputation

  • Phuong Tran

Even though Senegal is located in a part of the world known for volatile and violent politics, it is the only West African country to not have had a coup. Seven years ago, it held democratic elections that brought a new party to power. But, after President Abdoulaye Wade was re-elected earlier this year, opponents cried fraud and have vowed to boycott the upcoming legislative election. Local civil society is alarmed, while analysts consider the long-term impact of this potential boycott. Phuong Tran has more from Dakar.

More than 10 opposition parties say they refuse to participate in an election they say will be unfair. They say the president won his re-election through fraud.

Spokesman Yankhoba Seydi, of the Rewmi Party, which came in second in the presidential election, says his party wants electoral changes before participating.

"Let us talk about the rules. There are many things that are wrong in the registration process. Let us check the multiple cards that [are] issued for the voters," he said.

The president's office says the opposition is boycotting because it is scared of being crushed in the next election.

Election observer Alioune Tine says the presidential election was fair, despite some problems.

International observers also said the vote was free and fair, despite minor problems and some inequality in media coverage.

Tine, the director of the Senegal-based human rights group, RADDHO, says the opposition needs to recognize Mr. Wade fairly won almost 56 percent of the vote, before the president will meet with them.

"You know the president is a man who wants people to recognize his competence, to recognize [his] qualities, et cetera, it is a human feeling," he said.

RADDHO is one of about a dozen civil society groups, called the Civil Forum, trying to stop the boycott.

"I think that the problem with the opposition is that the condition is to discuss or to boycott. It was not the best way to [encourage] dialogue and to make our electoral system [stronger]," he said.

The Civil Forum submitted a letter to President Wade last Friday requesting to mediate a meeting between the two sides.

Presidential spokesman Amadou Sall says there is no need for civil society to play referee. He says the constitutional court already ruled elections were fair.

"We do not know why [under] this condition we [would] we receive civil society. To do what? I really do not know if the president will do it," he said.

This all comes as Senegal fine-tunes its request to the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation, which rewards poor, but well-governed countries with grants to reduce poverty.

At stake is up to $800 milllion to finance a large-scale business and residential development.

The person in charge of Senegal's Millennium Challenge application, Sogue Diarisso, says he is confident Senegal's high rank for good governance will not drop significantly, as a result of the threatened boycott.

He says Senegal is starting out much higher rating than other poor countries, in terms of democracy, and that the threat of a boycott does not change the solid core of Senegal's democratic history.

But Chris Fomunyoh, the Central and West Africa program director for the U.S.-based election watchdog group National Democratic Institute, says a boycott can hurt a country's democracy, in the long-term.

"When you have a huge segment that is not participating in the political process, it is difficult to expect that those that win power, through that process, will have legitimacy they need to be able to govern," he said.

The twice-delayed legislative election is scheduled to take place June 3. The president's office has said that it does not plan to delay the election again, regardless of opposition party participation.