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Vote Counting Underway in Senegal

  • Anne Look

A man votes during Senegal's presidential election in the capital Dakar, February 26, 2012.

A man votes during Senegal's presidential election in the capital Dakar, February 26, 2012.

Vote counting is underway in Senegal. Despite a calm day of polling on Sunday, the country continues to brace for potential unrest after results are announced.

For the most part, it was a quiet day of voting. The weeks leading up to it were anything but quiet.

Anti-government protestors clashed with police in Dakar as they demanded that President Abdoulaye Wade withdraw his bid for a third term in office.

The violence killed at least six people. There are concerns that a victory by Mr. Wade in a first round of voting could reignite tensions.

Waiting to cast her ballot in Dakar, Emilie Mendy said she hopes this election will return calm to the country. She said there was too much violence during campaigning. She called the election a crucial moment for Senegal's citizens to do their civic duty and vote peacefully.

But European Union election observers said turnout appeared to be low, perhaps no more than 50 percent.

The opposition says Mr. Wade's candidacy is unconstitutional, citing a reform he signed into law in 2001 that limits presidents to two terms. The presidentially-appointed Constitutional Court ruled that the reform does not apply retroactively to Mr. Wade's first term.

Critics say the 85-year-old incumbent is too old for a third term in office and that he wants to transfer power to his unpopular son, Karim. The president denies this and says he needs another mandate to finish several large-scale projects, including a new airport outside of Dakar.

Voting in Dakar, President Wade was greeted with boos and cheers.

Analysts say the field of 13 opposition candidates could split the vote in Mr. Wade's favor.

Casting his ballot, opposition frontrunner, Macky Sall, called Senegal a mature democracy. He said that through a free and transparent election, the country can solve its political problems without the violence it has seen in recent weeks.

Such tensions have been out of character for this traditionally stable democracy in West Africa, a region often dominated by coups and civil conflict.

About 15,000 registered voters were unable to vote in the country's southern Casamance region near the border with the Gambia, after a separatist rebel group hijacked a transport of voting materials Saturday. The Senegalese army says another convoy carrying ballots to the region was attacked on Sunday morning.

Election results are expected within 48 hours and must be announced by midnight on Friday.

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