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February 07, 2012

Senegal's President Begins Bid for Controversial Third Term

by Nick Loomis

Senegal's presidential election campaign is officially underway with 13 candidates seeking to prevent President Abdoulaye Wade from winning a controversial third term in the February 26 election.

Eight opposition candidates opened their campaigns ahead of Senegal's first-round presidential vote under a single banner and a single agenda.

"Respect for the constitution at the start of this campaign necessitates the repeal of the candidacy of President Abdoulaye Wade," said presidential candidate Macky Sall.

The recent rally at Obelisk Square in Dakar marked a drastic shift from earlier gatherings there.

Violent protests broke out in Dakar and elsewhere after the constitutional council gave  Wade the green light to seek a third term, despite a limit of two he enacted during his first term.  After his re-election in 2007, Wade said he would respect the limit.

"I blocked the number of terms, so it is not possible. I tell you sincerely that I cannot run for a third term," he said.

Now he is pressing ahead and the opposition is pushing back.  Leading the way is the June 23rd Movement, or M23, that takes its name from the day tens of thousands took to the streets in protest when Wade proposed a constitutional referendum that would have enabled him to win the presidential election with just 25 percent of the vote.

The president dropped the idea in the wake of massive protests.  But his spokesman says few Senegalese actually oppose Wade seeking a third term.

"The Senegalese are not in the streets.  The day that the Senegalese are in the streets, no power can resist them," said presidential spokesman Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye.

Recent protests in Dakar have drawn about 10,000 people, in a metropolitan area of nearly 3 million.  Political analyst Abdoul Lo says there is not the same urgency there was on June 23.

"What happened on the 23rd of June was that Senegalese people were sure that there was no alternative.  This time around, the constitutional court has made its decision, but people still have the feeling that there is an alternative, which is the vote on the 26th of February," said Lo.

The number candidates will splinter the opposition vote, but the coalition alleviates some voters' concerns.

"All of the candidates have their supporters and they will vote.  But if there is a second round, the coalition will move to support whomever won the first round," said Awa Ka, a Macky Sall supporter.

However, Lo says that M23 and voters underestimate the stakes for Wade.

"No matter the result of the elections, he will do whatever necessary to stay in power because, for him, it's vital," said Lo.

President Wade says that he wants another term to finish his infrastructure projects.  But Lo says that, during his 12 years in power, the 85-year-old president has made many enemies and murky deals that could mean trouble if he loses.