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Senegal Sees Low Turnout in Legislative Poll Amid Boycott


Voter turnout appeared to be low in Sunday's legislative election in Senegal, considered one of the most stable democracies in West Africa. Many potential voters are staying away from the polls in response to a boycott called by the major opposition parties. Opposition leaders have called the presidential polls in February unfair and have demanded a review of the electoral system. Kari Barber has more from Dakar.

A handful of voters cast their ballots in the Fann district of Dakar. There is no line. Electoral workers say it has been slow all day.

Samba Mbodj came to vote, but he says he is the only person in his family of 20 who did.

Mbodj says he cast a blank vote, meaning he approves none of the candidates. He says he does not support President Abdoulaye Wade's Senegalese Democratic Party and only voted because he wanted to perform his civic duty.

Store owner Maou Sow is boycotting the election. He says he is following the lead place finisher Idrissa Seck, and leader of a new party called Rewmi.

"The candidate I voted for is boycotting, so I do not want to choose another guy. That is why I do not want to vote," said Sow. "That is why I am boycotting like him."

Seck, a former prime minister, and about a dozen other opposition leaders called for the boycott, saying Mr. Wade had refused to meet with them to discuss complaints they had about the electoral process and voting rolls in the presidential election.

Opposition leaders also say the ruling Senegalese Democratic Party has unfair access to government-run detailed computerized information about voting districts.

Over 3,000 candidates, including some from smaller opposition parties, are vying for 150 seats in a newly enlarged National Assembly, 30 more than it previously had.

Opposition spokesman for the Socialist Party Mamadou Barry says the boycott is an exercise in democracy.

"We want a fair, transparent electoral process, period. That is all we want. We are not against Mr. Wade," said Barry. "We just want the electoral process to be clear and if he wins, he wins. If we lose, we lose. But at least we have a fair process, clear that everybody abides to."

Barry says he hopes turnout Sunday will be less than 50 percent.

Officials from the ruling party say elections are fair in Senegal, and that the opposition is calling for the boycott because it fears will lose by a landslide.

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