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Run-Off Election to Decide Senegal Presidential Race

Senegal is headed to a presidential run-off election that pits an opposition leader against his former political mentor.
In one scene of a 2000 video Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, then a charismatic opposition leader, cast his ballot. His election that year marked a peaceful transition from 40 years of single-party rule and inspired great hope among Senegalese. A later scene shows President Wade voting at the same polling place this past Sunday.

Opposition leaders say Wade's bid for a third term violates a two-term limit he signed into the constitution in 2001. Violent protests against his candidacy left at least six people dead in the weeks leading up to the election. Wade called the protests "temper tantrums" and refused to step down.

Provisional results released Wednesday show Wade led the first round with 35 percent of vote. It was not the resounding first-round victory he promised during campaigning. "They have lost, they have lost, they have lost," he said.

The president, 85, is Africa's second oldest leader after Robert Mugabe. His supporters praise him for building highways and other infrastructure.

Critics say he has not done enough to ease high youth unemployment and rising costs of living, something his opponent, Macky Sall, is already capitalizing on for the second round. "From my first days in office, I pledge to put in place measures to reduce the prices of daily needs like rice, cooking oil and sugar," he said.

The two politicians have a long history together that analyst Ali Ndiaye says could deter some opposition voters from backing Sall. "This race will be one of a student versus his teacher. We have the youngest candidate, Macky Sall, who was in the government for eight years as minister, prime minister, president of the National Assembly, and Wade's proclaimed 'number two'. The more Macky can make this election a referendum on Wade, the better his chances are because people will vote against Wade, but not for Macky," he explained.

Trained as a geological engineer, Macky Sall only left the ruling party to join the opposition in late 2008. He won 27 percent of votes in the first round after mounting a vigorous nationwide campaign.

It remains to be seen how much of the opposition he can get behind him before the March 18th run-off.

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