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Senegal Votes Amid Turmoil Over Presidential Controversy

  • Nick Loomis

Hundreds of women march during a protest against Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade's controversial third term bid for presidency, in Dakar, February 24, 2012.

Hundreds of women march during a protest against Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade's controversial third term bid for presidency, in Dakar, February 24, 2012.

Voters in Senegal go to the polls on Sunday, despite ongoing opposition protests against the candidacy of President Abdoulaye Wade. The normally-stable West African nation is experiencing unprecedented turmoil over the 85-year-old president's refusal to set aside his controversial bid for a third term.

Members of Senegal's opposition movement say they will continue daily protests to force Wade to withdraw his candidacy. Led by several opposition candidates, demonstrators have tried to reach the Place de l'Independence in the heart of downtown Dakar - where demonstrations are prohibited ahead of Sunday's vote.

Protesters say the ban and its excessive enforcement have no place in Senegal's celebrated democracy.

"We are not here to make war with our brother policemen. Far from it. We only want our rights. The constitution gives us the right to demonstrate," said protester Fatou Diop.

The reason for the demonstrations also is a constitutional matter. Wade amended the document to include a two-term limit in 2001. But despite that, he is now running for a third term.

"How can he forget the number of terms he can serve? It is absurd," said Diop.

Despite his 2007 pledge not to run again, Wade said he needs another term to finish several projects - including a new airport just outside Dakar. His supporters agree and want to let him finish what he has started.

"He has transformed the infrastructure in all of Senegal. Dams, bridges, education. Has made Senegal what Senegal has never been before," said Wade supporter Serigne Diatta.

Even his opponents are quick to concede that Wade has improved the country's infrastructure. But he is highly criticized for vanity projects - like his $27-million Monument to the African Renaissance - as wastes of public funds in a country plagued by constant power cuts, high unemployment, and a broken public education system.

"All of these failures certainly justify the falling out between the Senegalese people and the regime of Abdoulaye Wade," said presidential candidate Ibrahima Fall.

Candidate Ibrahima Fall has suggested the vote be delayed in light of the recent unrest. At least 10 have died in protests throughout Senegal since the nation's Constitutional Council approved the president's candidacy on January 27. The same court will oversee the outcome of the elections. That worries an opposition who believes the court's independence is compromised. Wade repeatedly has guaranteed that he will exceed the 50% needed for a first-round victory over all 13 opponents.

"They have lost, they have lost, they have lost...," said Wade.

Large delegations of observers have come from the European and African Unions, as well as the Economic Community of West African States to monitor the vote, which Wade's government says will be fair and transparent.

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