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March 25, 2012

Senegal's Wade Concedes Electoral Defeat, Draws Praise

by Anne Look

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has conceded defeat in Sunday's presidential runoff election, winning praise from the international community, and his own people.

On Monday, ssupporters of opposition leader Macky Sall continued their celebrations as unofficial results showed the opposition leader trouncing Wade in Sunday's vote.

The incumbent president telephoned Sall Sunday evening to congratulate him, just three-and-a-half hours after polls closed.

Sall held a press conference late Sunday night, hailing his victory as a new era for Senegal. He saluted his allies and supporters, as well as those who voted for Wade. Sall also declared he will be the president for all Senegalese and quickly get to work to meet their immense expectations.

The great winner of this election remains the Senegalese people, he said.

Senegal has long been an anchor of stability in a part of the world more commonly overrun by military coups, election-related violence and "presidents for life."

Despite deadly protests ahead of the first round of voting on February 26, Sunday's vote was calm. Wade's concession of defeat was met by an almost palpable sigh of relief.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy called the move a "testimony to Mr. Wade's commitment to democracy" in an open letter to the president.

The cloud of tension that has hung over Dakar in recent months seemed to evaporate Monday. The president's supporters and opponents alike say they are ready to forgive and forget.

Macky Sall

  • Age: 50
  • Former protege of outgoing President Wade
  • Served as prime Minister 2004 - 2007
  • Mayor of his hometown of Fatick
  • Fell out with president after his son, Karim Wade, was called to parliament to answer questions
  • Formed the Alliance for the Republic Party in 2008
  • Backed by all main opposition candidates in 2nd round

But some Wade supporters were clearly disappointed. Ngefa Diouf said the incumbent president feels like a father to her.

Wade did many good things, Diouf said, but perhaps it was his time to go and allow a new generation to take over. She also expressed pride that he conceded so quickly.  Senegalese, she said, will remember the president well.

At 85 years of age, Wade is Africa's second oldest leader. Sall is more than three decades his junior.

Sall is the president's former political protege. He held various high level government posts before a falling out with his mentor in late 2008.  

The entirety of Senegal's previously scattered opposition united behind Sall for the second-round vote. He hit the right notes with voters, promising from his first days in office to reduce the price of daily food goods like rice, sugar and cooking oil. He pledged to decentralize power in the government and audit the country's finances.

Twenty-six-year-old Mame Diaby said the youth are behind Sall. Life is too expensive, she said, and they want change.

Wade was seeking a controversial third term. He came to power in 2000 on a tide of popular support. But electricity cuts, unemployment and rising food prices have since disenchanted many Senegalese.

The increasingly prominent role of the president's son, Karim, was another point of contention.

Wade's greatest political misstep was acting as if the state belonged to him and his family, said analyst and opposition strategist Latif Coulibaly. When Wade made his son a government minister, he said, the Senegalese were shocked, having never known a dynastic style of rule.

Wade does not look prepared to leave politics altogether. In a written statement, he called on ruling party supporters to regroup ahead of June's legislative elections.

Senegal's electoral commission is expected to announce official provisional results of Sunday's vote later this week.