Photos capture the mood of capital city Dakar just days before the presidential election.
DAKAR, Senegal – Leaders of Senegal’s protest movement are calling for Sunday’s elections in the country to be postponed amid popular anger over incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade’s controversial bid for a third term.
Alioune Tine, the co-ordinator of the M23 movement, told Senegalese public radio that leaders would propose the delay in a meeting on Saturday with Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president, who is seeking to defuse tensions and mediate between Wade and his opponents.
Tine said M23, an umbrella grouping of activists, opposition leaders and youth, would call for a transition period of six months in which Wade would improve the institutions of the country, including establishing a new constitutional court and an independent electoral commission.
“After all of this is in place, elections can be held within one year or so,” said Tine.
Tine also said he had been called by Ivorian President Alassane Ouatarra, who called on the opposition to maintain peace at all costs.
Ivory Coast endured months of conflict after a 2010 presidential election in which former president Laurent Gbgabo refused to accept Ouatarra’s widely recognised victory at the ballot box.
Senegalese radio station RFM reported that Obasanjo was set to advocate a roadmap for the country that included a postponement of elections for up to two years in which Wade would share power with opposition parties.
The leadership of the M23 movement met with Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president, on Saturday morning.
After the discussion, Tine told journalists that the movement presented a range of proposals to the head of the Africa Union delegation – in Senegal to try to mediate a solution – and they will now wait for feedback.
“Our proposals include postponing the elections and implementing a set of reforms, including an election without Wade in nine months’ time, a new constitutional court to replace the [existing] constitutional council,” Obasanjo said.
The opposition also asked for the minister of the interior to be one of the opposition candidates, and for an independent electoral commission to replace the autonomous commission.
So far, however, Wade, 85, has rejected calls for him to withdraw from the election.
“I am in good health. If the Senegalese people want me for a new term, I will do it,” Wade told Al Jazeera on Friday.
Wade later addressed thousands of supporters at a rally in Dakar, the capital.
“There is no going back, the problem of the constitutional legality of my candidacy is behind us,” Wade told the crowd.
“There will be no negotiating about the mandate which will be delivered to me by the people.”
The crisis threatens to damage Senegal’s reputation as the oldest and most established democracy in the region, with opposition factions threatening further protests against Wade.
Dakar has been shaken by days of clashes between opposition supporters and police services that have left several people dead.
Wade’s opponents say he is ineligible to stand for office because of a consititutional two-term limit. But Senegal’s top court has approved Wade’s candidacy on the grounds that he served his first term before the limit was introduced.
The M23 movement have called that ruling a “constitutional coup”.
Wade faces a fragmented opposition, with 13 candidates standing against him, including Idrissa Seck, Macky Sall and Moustapha Niasse, and socialist leader Ousmane Tanor Dieng.
Most have rejected calls for an election boycott.
Sall, a former prime minister who is considered one of Wade’s main rivals, that a boycott would be an open invitation for Wade to retain power.
“We go to elections with or without Wade, even if he doesn’t have the right to participate in these elections,” Sall said.
Wade was first elected in 2000 to great euphoria as he unseated the socialists after 40 years in office.
However growing social anger over unemployment and crippling power cuts which spilled into the streets last year have heightened tensions.
Wade says he needs more time in office to finish his “Grand Projects”, but he is accused of seeking to line up his son Karim Wade to succeed him, which has incensed the opposition.
Both former colonial power France and the United States have criticised Wade’s decision to run again, urging him to retire and allow power to pass to the next generation.
— Additional reporting from Andrew Simmons in Dakar