Some 14,000 legislators and regional council members across Senegal are casting ballots Sunday for 35 members of a new senate. Major opposition parties are boycotting the election, calling it undemocratic because President Abdoulaye Wade will appoint the remaining 65 members. Phuong Tran has more from Dakar.
After his first election in 2000, President Abdoulaye Wade dissolved the first senate, calling it a waste of money. Six years later, the second-term president is recreating the senate to include 65 presidential appointees.
A change to the constitution earlier this year makes the head of the newly formed senate next in line for the presidency if the octogenarian president cannot serve.
At a primary school in the capital Dakar, voters began arriving at nine in the morning to cast their ballots from a four-page list of candidates.
Major opposition parties boycotted the election nationwide, saying the new senate is undemocratic.
Opposition coalition director Moustapha Fall says it is pointless for anyone outside the ruling party to vote.
He says that even if opposition parties win all the elected senatorial seats, they will still not have real power because President Wade will appoint 65 senators, which will form the senate majority.
But the newly-appointed head of President Wade's political cabinet, Babacar Gaye, dismisses the opposition's accusations.
The minister says the president wants to appoint senators to ensure that people who are typically sidelined in politics, like women and people in their thirties and forties, can be included in the new senate.
Gaye says the president wants to prevent a tyranny of political parties by allowing non-political actors a voice.
He adds that other democracies appoint senators, citing Canada where the governor general and prime minister appoint more than 100 senators.
Some dissenters in the ruling party oppose the makeup of the new senate, as well as a recent ruling party reshuffling. They say President Wade is trying to position his son, Karim Wade, to succeed him by appointing senators and party leaders who will support the younger Wade's candidacy in 2012.
The president has denied the charge.
Opposition leaders say they will not participate in elections until President Wade agrees to change the electoral system.
They say the president's re-election earlier this year was fraudulent, even though international monitors largely ruled the election fair.