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Senegalese Opposition Enters Final Days of Election Boycott


In Senegal, more than a dozen opposition political groups enter the final days of their boycott against this coming Sunday's legislative election. They point to this past weekend's low turnout for the military as proof the boycott is working. But some say the boycott is a losing battle and are deserting the opposition to join the ruling party. Phuong Tran has more from Dakar.

The opposition coalition called "Front for the Restoration of Senegal" continues its call for a nationwide legislative election boycott because of what its leaders call widespread fraud during the presidential election, earlier this year, when President Wade won almost 56 percent of the vote.

Despite the opposition's efforts to delay the vote, through a court ruling, the already-twice-delayed legislative election is scheduled to take place this Sunday.

One of the coalition's leaders, Moustapha Fall, says his group's campaign to keep voters away from the polls is working.

He says the fact that only one-third of the military voted, this past weekend, shows how voters agree with the boycott. He says the higher military turnout for the presidential election shows the boycott has had an effect.

About 80 percent of the military and security forces voted in the presidential election.

But election observers and members of the president's coalition say legislative elections typically attract less attention than presidential ones and that the military and security forces are voting separately for the first time and cannot be used as a gauge for the nationwide vote.

Senegalese writer Mody Niang, who has written critical books about the president that he says are banned in Senegal, says the president's coalition is trying to prove it has voters' support, despite the boycott.

The writer says President Wade has been fighting a possible drop in voter turnout by going to the countryside and treating villagers to extravagant feasts of chicken, sheep and beef. He says the ruling party plans to bus voters to the polls.

Niang says the boycott has actually worked in President Wade's favor, in one way: opposition members who do not want to wait five years until the next election to have a voice in the government are joining the president's coalition.

For the past eight years, Paul Ndong has been the mayor of Joal-Fadiouth, a fishing village 100 kilometers from the capital.

He says he was born into the Socialist Party and has been a committed Socialist his entire life until two months ago.

He went through what he calls a personal political upheaval and joined the president's ruling coalition, the Democratic Party of Senegal.

Ndong says he was not personally informed about the boycott. He says he learned about it from watching the news and does not understand why the opposition is boycotting and that he does not agree.

The mayor says the opposition could have won many of the 150 elected positions.

But the long-Socialist mayor says he is now faithful to the president's coalition.

In the streets of the capital, this taxi driver says he does not know about the boycott. He says he plans to drive his taxi 200 kilometers to his home village, in the northern Louga Province, to vote for President Wade's party.

He says taxi drivers tend to like how the president is trying to fix Dakar's congested roads.