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Presidential Politics Gear Up in Senegal

  • Nick Loomis

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade addresses the 66th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 2011. (file photo)

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade addresses the 66th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 2011. (file photo)

Presidential politics in Senegal is in full swing now that President Abdoulaye Wade's party made official his controversial bid for a third term in the February elections. The announcement has re-ignited a six-month-old opposition movement.

President Wade’s Senegalese Democratic Party [PDS] chose a controversial date to announce a controversial decision. The party confirmed that the president is its candidate for the February 26 election at a rally on Friday, which is the six-month anniversary of one of his biggest political defeats.

It was on June 23 - in the face of protests and riots - that Wade was forced to withdraw a proposed constitutional referendum to make it easier for him to win the upcoming election in the first round.

M23 rises

The popular uprising gave birth to an opposition movement called the June 23 Movement, or M23, in commemoration of the victory.

Group organizers did not miss the opportunity to celebrate its six-month anniversary, and now to protest Wade's candidacy with another demonstration at the Place d'Obelisque in the heart of Dakar.

An M23 organizer said Wade will not be a candidate in 2012. He said if the president listens to the people of Senegal, he will stand down before it's too late.

More than 10,000 people attended the rally - including musical rap group Y'en A Marre - which debuted its new song "Faux Pas Forcer."

Group member Fadel Barro said it is a direct message to the president. He said the message is "don't force" this issue or it could end in chaos.

Citing constitutional concerns

Political opponents say Wade’s candidacy is unconstitutional because it violates the 2001 amendment he signed setting a two-term limit for the president. He reaffirmed his commitment to abide by the term limits when he won re-election in 2007.

He said that he locked the number of terms, so it is not possible for him to run for a third term.

But now Wade argues that the limit does not apply to him retroactively.

Minister of Communication Abdourahim Agne said the matter will be resolved next month by the Constitutional Council. The council is a group of jurists appointed by the president.

Agne said that it is the role of the Constitutional Council to resolve the question of whether the president can legally run - not the street. He said if the street resolves that question, there will be disorder.

Noting the president's age

In addition to the legal challenge, opponents also question Wade’s fitness for office at the age of 85.

Presidential candidate El Hadji Diouf said Wade should listen to, and practice, reason. He added that Wade should know better in his old age.

Supporters see the president’s age as an advantage.

Ida Diallo said that Wade is the father of everyone, the grandfather of everyone. She admitted he is old, but said he is still stronger than many younger than him.

Some Western nations - including several U.S. lawmakers - are pressing Wade not to run, concerned that it could spark unrest in a country that has enjoyed relative stability since it gained its independence 50 years ago.