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High Turnout as Senegal Votes for a President

Turnout was high and waits were long as Senegalese took to the polls for its presidential election, in which incumbent Abdoulaye Wade is trying to get a first round win with over 50 percent of the vote, while 14 challengers are trying to force a run-off. Naomi Schwarz reports from Dakar.

Supporters thronged Mr. Wade at midday as he voted in the presidential elections, chanting his nickname "Gorgui."

Mr. Wade said he was confident of a first round victory.

"I am very optimistic," he said. "Before coming here, I called all my representatives of the party in each department of Senegal and they are very, very confident and there is very big mobilization for Wade."

Senegalese activist Alioune Tine, whose human-rights organization is monitoring polling stations said that he also was impressed with the high turnout.

"I think it is historical. Because since the independence of Senegal, we have not seen such a mobilization here in this country," he said.

But he said that in some places there had been serious delays getting polling stations open.

A main opposition candidate, Idrissa Seck, said after voting that democracy has been hurt under the current administration.

He cites problems like delayed distribution of voter cards, as well as intimidation of opposition leaders and journalists. Seck, a former protégé of Mr. Wade, was jailed last year as part of a corruption probe.

The campaign of another major opposition candidate, Ousmane Tanor Dieng, from the former ruling Socialist Party said it had credible information of what it called a planned strategy of fraud. It said several-hundred Socialist Party supporters had been denied voting cards.

The problem of voting cards was also discussed in the capital Dakar, like at this polling station in the Fann neighborhood.

Demba Kanté, who was monitoring the vote as a representative from one of the opposition parties, said many people had still not received their card in time to vote.

"I myself have received my card only this Sunday past. That was a way of discouraging people. If you come and they tell you to come another week, so and so and so. Two months after, you will be discouraged," he said.

First-time voter Mamadou Ndiaye did get his card in time, but had to wait several hours to vote.

While he waited, other would-be voters argued over the system of voting, which confused many. It consisted of selecting one of the 15 colored slips for each candidate.

But Ndiaye said he was excited for his chance to participate in the democratic process.

"I think that it is very good today [Sunday], because I see that all the population is here for doing [their] right, to choose the president," he said. "I think that today [Sunday] all the world will see that Senegal is a country of peace."

Senegal is considered by many to be a model democracy in West Africa. Mr. Wade is the third president since independence.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, there is a second round scheduled on March 11 for the top two finishers.