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Senegal's Campaign Kicks Off With Confusing Alliances

Campaigning in Senegal for a presidential election later this month has begun, amid confusion over some changing political alliances. The election takes place against a backdrop of a construction boom, but high unemployment and poor public services. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Dakar.

Rallies started timidly on the first day of campaigning for the February 25 poll.

One of the first events was for Idrissa Seck, a controversial former prime minister, who was jailed in 2005 in a corruption investigation, but released seven months later.

In the run-up to the vote, Seck created his own party, Rewmi, which means 'country' in the local Wolof language, and allied himself with other opposition parties.

But last week, President Abdoulaye Wade, who is also running, said he was bringing Seck back into what he called the liberal family of the ruling party.

A Seck supporter at Sunday's rally, Pape Mamadou Thiaw, said that was fine by him.

"It is a kind of agreement between Wade and Seck. I think both of them can do a lot for our country," said Thiaw. "That is why I am for this decision of Seck. I think he is going to work with Wade. If they work, if they join together to work, in order to develop our country, it is good. If it is something else, I am not for that."

A Rewmi party member, running in parliamentary elections, now pushed back until June, says he believes voters will understand.

He says, ever since independence, Senegalese have been used to a multitude of alliances. Mr. Wade ended four decades of Socialist Party rule in 2000 on a platform of open-market policies. But, he has recently reached out to politicians of many different political stripes.

The Rewmi party member, Abdoulaye Sarre, says Senegalese do not pay much attention to ideology. He says Seck and Mr. Wade are the best answer to delivering jobs and food, which he says, are what people need.

If a second round run-off is needed, Mr. Wade and Seck are expected to each back the other, if only one of them reaches the second round. But some of Mr. Wade's supporters briefly showed up at Sunday's rally, ripping down Seck posters and trying to put up some of the president.

In another part of the capital, another main contender and former prime minister, Moustapha Niasse, was preparing his own rally.

A spokesman for his party, the Alliance for the Forces of Progress, Agne Santy, says the murky alliance between Seck and Mr. Wade shows they are interested more in power, and themselves, than in the interests of Senegalese.

He says all they want is what he calls the available loot in state coffers.

He says his candidate, whom he called a social democrat, has a message of hope.

Better hope for youth, he says, so they stop taking dangerous boats to Europe; better hope for farmers, so their work does not just feed export markets, better hope for market women and better hope for democracy.

Niasse was one of several political leaders briefly detained last month during a crackdown on a pre-campaign rally.

The other heavyweights in this 15-candidate election include Socialist Party candidate Ousmane Tanor Dieng, who went to the home village of former Socialist President Abdou Diouf.

Mr. Wade is the overall favorite, even though he is in his 80s. Some Senegalese analysts say the crowded field could prevent him from winning outright in the first round, and that strategies in alliances will be crucial in determining the outcome of a possible second round.