News / Africa

Senegal's Ruling Party Drops Constitutional Changes After Dakar Riots

Anti-government protesters walk past a burning vehicle and barricades during a demonstration in the capital Dakar, June 23, 2011
Anti-government protesters walk past a burning vehicle and barricades during a demonstration in the capital Dakar, June 23, 2011

Senegal's ruling party is dropping proposed constitutional changes that would make it easier to be elected president, this after opposition demonstrators clashed with riot police outside the National Assembly.

Opponents of President Abdoulaye Wade fought riot police in downtown Dakar, charging toward the National Assembly throwing stones before being pushed back with water cannon and tear gas.

They were protesting constitutional amendments put forward by the ruling party to create the post of vice president and to make it easier to be elected president by lowering the percentage of votes necessary to win outright and avoid a second-round run-off.

That threshold is currently one vote more than 50 percent. The amendment proposed would lower it to 25 percent.

Opposition demonstrators eventually pushed through to occupy the plaza in front of the National Assembly, chanting “Free Our Country” as riot police pulled back to positions inside the parliamentary compound. Other protesters broke off from the main group and fought supporters of the ruling party between Dakar's main Sandaga market and the National Cathedral.

With clouds of tear gas and smoke from burning cars rising above downtown, President Wade's spokesman announced on state-run radio that the ruling party is abandoning changes to the percentage clause.

Justice Minister Cheikh Tidiane Sy told lawmakers that the constitutional article stating that a president must be elected with an absolute majority will remain unchanged. But some members of the ruling party are still pushing for that to be lowered to 25 percent.

Demonstrator Abdu Diene says protesters oppose what he says is President Wade's push to create a vice president so that his son, Karim, can succeed him.

“Something is wrong with Abdoulaye Wade. I don't know. He is a crazy man. He is very bad. He is trying to make these people take his son, Karim. Every one understands,” said Diene.

Emilie Nzale, the national chair of the Dieuf Dieul political party and the deputy mayor of Dakar's Sicap neighborhood, says the Senegalese people will not accept the core values of their ancestors being disrespected by President Abdoulaye Wade, whose role is to preserve the constitution, not to use it as he wants. Nzale says she does not agree with his plan to bring Karim Wade to power, and the president's opponents will continue to fight against that.

The United States and France both expressed concern about the proposed constitutional amendments.

President Wade's spokesman says the ruling party is moving to “reinforce democracy” by better sharing power.

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