Senegal Votes in Presidential Runoff Sunday

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade speaks to journalists at a news conference in Dakar (file photo).
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade speaks to journalists at a news conference in Dakar (file photo).
Anne Look

Senegal votes Sunday in a tightly-contested runoff election that pits opposition leader Macky Sall against his former political mentor, incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade.

President Abdoulaye Wade waved and touched hands with singing supporters from the moonroof of a black SUV Wednesday as he made campaign stops on the outskirts of Dakar.

The long caravan of SUVs was a throwback to the "blue marches" of Wade's glory days in the opposition, blue being the signature color of his party.  Hundreds, some say thousands, of supporters would walk through the streets alongside Mr. Wade's car.

On Wednesday, young people and school children ran to keep up with the cavalcade as it rolled through the main drag of Mbour, 80 kilometers south of the capital.

Wade's critics say he has fallen out of touch with the population, focusing too much on large projects and not enough on the daily difficulties of ordinary Senegalese.

As the caravan passes, Abdoulaye Assane Bathily says he is a fervent ruling party militant and predicts Wade will win a resounding victory.  He says Wade promised to build infrastructure to draw investment and he did it.  He says Senegal is now an emerging nation.  He says he prays that Wade will have the strength to continue.

A young street vendor interrupts Bathily.

He says, "I have a university degree but do you see what I am doing?"  He pulls herbal ginseng supplements from his backpack that he is selling.  He says the president promised us young people jobs if he came to power but do you see what I am forced to do?  He says Wade cannot be re-elected.

Wade came to power on a tide of popular support in 2000 and won re-election in 2007 in the first round.  He now says he wants to serve three years of a controversial third mandate to finish his projects, including a new airport outside Dakar.

The opposition says he is violating a constitutional two-term limit.  Critics say the president wants to pass on power to his son and government minister, Karim, something Wade denies.

Street protests against Wade's candidacy before the first round of voting February 25 killed at least six people.  The violence shook the population of what has been one of West Africa's most celebrated and peaceful democracies.

Speaking in the ruling party stronghold of Mbao Wednesday Wade thanks those who voted for him in the first round.  He says fears of violence kept many from voting.  He says the French and the Americans said Senegal would explode, but it did not.  He says the second round will be calm and he expects supporters to vote en masse to raise his majority to 75 percent.

Wade led the first round with 35 percent of votes.  Macky Sall won just under 27 percent.

The rest of the ballots - nearly 40 percent - went to a dozen other opposition candidates who have thrown their support behind Sall.

However, victory is not a mathematical certainty.  Nearly half of Senegal's 5.3 million registered voters did not go to the polls in the first round.

Sall has set himself up as the anti-Wade, promising to decentralize the government and reduce the cost of daily necessities, like oil, rice and sugar.  At 85 years of age,  Wade is Africa's second oldest leader.  Sall is three decades his junior.

Sall served in Wade's government as mining minister, prime minister and president of the National Assembly.  He ran Wade's campaign in 2007.  Sall only left the ruling party in late 2008.

Awa Laye Fall says she will vote for Sall - not because he is better, she says, but because he is all they have.  She says they want Wade out, but she doesn't trust Macky Sall.  She says she doesn't think he is that different.  She says all they can do is try to control him so that he does not follow in Wade's footsteps.

Sall has sought to shake off the moniker of Wade's apprentice.

Addressing a rally outside Dakar Tuesday, Sall says he is a free man.  He says he is not beholden to any lobby on the national or international level.  He says he does not owe anything to anyone and has gotten where is through his own efforts.  He says Wade should not be a sore loser.  He says Wade's government should pack its bags and prepare to be swept out by the Senegalese people.

Sall has run an energetic, populist campaign, while Wade has prioritized one-on-one visits in regional centers aimed at drawing in opposition heavyweights at the local level.  He has also secured the backing of influential leaders in the country's Muslim Mouride brotherhood.

It promises to be a tight race, and the two allies-turned-opponents appear ready to fight to the finish. Senegalese continue to express concern that disputes over the results could rekindle violence.

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