A Turbulence-Free Election in Senegal – Wade Defeated At Own Polling Station

Posted March 26, 2012 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in News ~ 1,812 views


By ADAM NOSSITER – New York Times

DAKAR, Senegal — The elderly president of this West African nation conceded defeat after elections here on Sunday, a rare example of a prompt and peaceful political turnover in a region tormented by coups and leaders who refuse to give up power.

But that quest appears to have failed. The Senegalese Press Agency reported Sunday night that Mr. Wade had called his opponent, Macky Sall, a onetime protégé of his and a former prime minister, to congratulate him on his apparent victory at around 9:30 p.m. local time.

The seaside neighborhood around Mr. Sall’s house rang out with the cheers of his supporters, loud horns and blaring music. State television — hitherto a propaganda machine for Mr. Wade — showed scenes of jubilant crowds packing the streets downtown here in the capital to celebrate Mr. Sall’s victory.

Mr. Wade’s attempt to cling to power — the latest in a succession of such efforts by West African leaders — had aroused fierce opposition in this small coastal nation with a tradition of playing by democratic rules.

The runup to the first round of voting in February had been punctuated by protests, which were small in scale but determined, and marked by a large coalition of opposition politicians vowing to unseat the president.

In addition, Mr. Wade’s age — he is at least 85 but probably older and is among the last of the independence-era African politicians still active — had provoked Senegal’s youths into an independent opposition movement that coalesced around fiercely critical rap songs. Two of this nation’s defining characteristics — its young population and its distinctive musical culture — were mobilized against Mr. Wade, who showed increasing authoritarian tendencies.

As a result, Mr. Sall had been favored for weeks to beat Mr. Wade in Sunday’s second round of voting.

Mr. Sall, a 50-year-old geologist-engineer who is as subdued as Mr. Wade is flamboyant, finished second in the first round, with 26.6 percent to Mr. Wade’s 34.8 percent.

But more than a dozen other contenders had united behind Mr. Sall, urging their followers to vote for the challenger, and analysts had not expected the president to increase his first-round total enough to defeat the man whose early political ascent he had nurtured.

As it has often done in the past, Senegal seemed once again, on Sunday, to be providing a calm lesson in democracy to its turbulent peers in the region. Mr. Wade apparently wasted no time in conceding defeat. Just last week, a troubled neighbor that seemed to have righted itself democratically over the last two decades, Mali, appeared to tumble back into military dictatorship following a successful coup.

Senegal is one of the few nations on the continent never to have experienced a military coup. At least twice in its history, the military had an easy opportunity to seize power. But it did not do so, and the army here is considered firmly in the democratic camp. In addition, free elections have been held here since the late 19th century.

Definitive results from the second round of voting are not expected until later in the week, but already Sunday night Mr. Sall was heavily outscoring Mr. Wade in numerous polling places, according to the official Senegalese press agency. Mr. Sall even defeated Mr. Wade in the latter’s own voting station in one of the capital’s upscale neighborhoods, by nearly four to one, according to the press agency. Politics here is often a matter of unswerving loyalty and unquestioned allegiances, and Mr. Sall earned an exile in the political wilderness when he violated those codes. On Sunday, he appeared to have gained revenge — a prospect savored in recent weeks by the protest movement.

Stolid, soft-spoken and deliberate, and from a working-class background in the provinces, Mr. Sall angered Mr. Wade nearly five years ago when, as his hand-picked president of the National Assembly, he summoned Mr. Wade’s influential son, Karim, to explain himself over the management of a grandiose Islamic conference here in the capital.

“He told me, ‘That was a political error, and political errors must be paid in cash,’ ” Mr. Sall recalled in an interview at his home last month, describing how the incident had led to his dismissal.

Mr. Sall is promising a more subdued style of governing, less spending on prestige projects of limited value to a largely impoverished population, a strict limit of two terms and greater attention to agriculture. Most Senegalese work in the country’s fields and farms, yet it still imports most of its food, partly because Mr. Wade has neglected agriculture in favor of spending on new highways and a modern airport, among other things.

“The current administration wastes a lot of money,” Mr. Sall said in an interview on Saturday. “I’m for a style of governance that is more sober and efficient.” In addition, institutions such as the Parliament and the judiciary have largely been rubber stamps for Mr. Wade. Mr. Sall promised a change, “a new republic, in which the equilibrium between institutions is respected.”

Mr. Wade, who is French-educated with numerous university degrees, had at least 200 ministers over the course of his 12-year rule, six prime ministers and was sharply criticized for projects like spending $27 million on a towering statue to the “African Renaissance” on a hill overlooking Dakar.

“Senegal, in a transparent election, has proven once again that it is and remains a great democracy, a great country,” Mr. Wade’s press secretary said in a statement Sunday announcing his concession.

Quietly, Mr. Sall criticized his former mentor’s grandiose style — long motorcades of expensive cars, a new state airplane, big-ticket spending — in the interview in his home last month. He suggested the contrast with his own style would be evident.

“His problem is organization,” Mr. Sall said. “He doesn’t adjust his ideas to reality. He’s a dreamer, and he thinks he’s the most brilliant of all the chiefs of state.”

Disillusion with Mr. Wade and his high-spending entourage was evident at polling places in the capital Sunday.

“They live in luxury, and we are struggling,” said Ibrahim Diedhiou, a shipping agent who was voting at a school in the seaside Mermoz neighborhood. “They do nothing to create jobs,” he said, alluding to an unemployment rate that in some estimates surpasses 50 percent.

“We must have a break with this immobilism,” said another voter, Amadou Mustapha Gaye, a secretary to a school principal. “Wade is stubborn. He’s built some bridges, but our measure of development is potable water. We gave him everything. And now he’s hung on for 12 years.”

A version of this article appeared in print on March 26, 2012, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Challenger Ahead in Vote In Senegal.

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Ugandan Diaspora News Team

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