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Senegal's President Wade Seeks First Round Victory

On Sunday, Senegal will hold a presidential election, pitting incumbent Abdoulaye Wade against a crowded field of opposition candidates. The peaceful country is often described as having one of the best democratic systems in West Africa, despite its economic underdevelopment. As Nico Colombant reports from Dakar, President Wade is favored to win but he faces a boisterous opposition from several former close allies.

Senegal is a mostly barren land, burdened by grinding poverty.

Its infrastructure, despite high government taxes, is woefully inadequate -- and minimum standards of sanitation are not met in most places.

But the presidential campaign, as is customary, is a time of promises and hope for a new beginning.

Incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade is running on a platform of change as he did seven years ago when he ended four decades of Socialist party rule.

His supporters chant "Sopi", "Sopi" which means change in the local wolof language.

Mr. Wade says he needs more time to implement the changes he has set in motion.

Despite being in his 80s, his campaign style is bold.

At every stop, he promises to build new factories, new roads, new monuments to local heroes.

In this speech, he vowed to win more than 50 percent of the vote Sunday, thereby assuring a first round victory.

But his detractors are many, like these supporters of a former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck who say a generational change is needed.

The campaign has been marked by recurrent clashes and scuffles, sparking fears that tranquil Senegal is in danger of losing some of its stability.

Senegal is the only country in West Africa never to have experienced a military coup.

Another former prime minister and close ally, Moustapha Niasse, is also running against Mr. Wade.

There are 14 opposition candidates and it is difficult to tell if combined they will be able to force a second round.

One opposition activist, Mbaye Seck, certainly hopes so. "The actual regime added to all sorts of problems and all sorts of difficulties, and to the natural and social problems that we (have). now. That is why all Senegalese have one desire, to (end with) this government and to elect another one."

Senegal has a very young voting age population. Many of the country's two million new voters are barely 18, though many of those who participated in rallies are not of voting age.

With opinion polls banned in Senegal, it is difficult to tell which group will still be celebrating after votes are counted.