Voters prepare for presidential elections in Senegal

President Macky Sall is widely expected to win reelection after two of his two rivals were barred from running.

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    More than 6.5 million people have registered to take part in Sunday's election. [SEYLLOU/AFP]
    More than 6.5 million people have registered to take part in Sunday's election. [SEYLLOU/AFP]

    Dakar, Senegal - Millions of Senegalese citizens are preparing to head to polling stations across the West African country on Sunday for presidential elections.

    More than 6.5 million people have registered to take part in the vote, the first since a 2016 referendum reduced a president's term in office from seven to five years.

    The change means a leader can now only serve a maximum of two five-year terms.

    The campaign period, which started on February 4, came to an end on late Friday as candidates made last-minute promises in a bid to win over voters. Infrastructure, corruption, and employment are some of the most pressing issues for the electorate before the vote.

    Infrastructure

    Under President Macky Sall, Senegal has enjoyed a boom in construction projects, such as the completion of the long-delayed half a billion dollar airport outside the capital Dakar, and the futuristic city of Diamniadio, which is being built from scratch.

    Last month, President Sall and his Gambian counterpart Adama Barrow also inaugurated the Senegambia bridge, which the leaders hope will invigorate trade between the neighbours.

    Roads have been built and more homes have access to electricity. Power cuts and water shortages have also become rare in Dakar, since Sall came to power in 2012.

    Sall's supporters hope these achievements will get him re-elected.

    "Most people who will vote for the president are saying that what is important is all the different infrastructure [Sall] has built. They argue that prices of basic goods have remained stagnant more or less because of this," Cheikh Thiam, an associate professor at Dakar Institute for African Studies told Al Jazeera.

    Despite the flagship infrastructure projects, more than one-third of Senegal's 15 million population still live below the poverty line, according to the UN.

    Corruption and unemployment

    Despite being one of the most stable democracies on the continent, Senegal is ranked 67 out of 180 in Transparency International's corruption perception index.

    All of the candidates standing for election on Sunday have promised to make graft a thing of the past, if they win.

    At least 60 percent of the country's population is under the age of 25. Most are unemployed and restless.

    President Sall claims to have created more than 400,000 jobs mostly for young people since he came to office seven years ago, but experts and opposition candidates dispute the figure.

    "The government can't give employment. It's the private sector that gives jobs. So, these promises are just a means to collect the youth vote. Giving more value to the private sector is the only way to solve the job question," Abou Kane, professor of economics at Cheikh Anta Diop University, told Al Jazeera.

    France's role in Senegal

    France, the West African country's former colonial ruler, maintains a large footprint in Senegal with French companies involved in everything from the security sector to the telecommunications industry.

    The country's continuing influence on Senegal has become a hot topic in the run-up to the election.

    Supporters of candidate Madicke Niang gather in a Dakar suburb on Friday [Carmen Abd Ali / AFP]

    Ousmane Sonko, who at 44 is the youngest candidate in the race, has said that commercial contracts awarded to French companies should be looked at again and renegotiated.

    "The very quick surge of Sonko is linked to two things: First, his denunciation of corruption within the system. Second, his critique of France's presence, a decolonial critique of France itself. These are the two issues that have created Sonko. The ongoing presence of French colonialism here is important," Thiam said.

    The stance has earned the former tax inspector-turned-whistle-blower popularity among the country's youth, especially his promise to drop the country's existing currency.

    Sonko has promised to create a domestic currency to replace the CFA franc if elected.

    The CFA franc was introduced by France in 1945 and is used by 14 West African nations.

    Pegged to the euro, the countries that use the CFA franc are forced to keep at least 50 percent of their foreign exchange reserves in an account at the French Central Bank.

    The candidates

    President Sall, 57, is widely expected to win the poll after two of the country's most well-known opposition leaders were barred from contesting the election.

    The former mayor of the capital, Khalifa Sall, who is not related to the president, is serving a five-year jail term on corruption charges.

    Meanwhile, Karim Wade, son of the country's former leader Abdoulaye Wade, has gone into exile in Qatar after serving half of a six-year jail term for corruption.

    Both deny the charges, which they say are politically motivated.

    Besides, Sall and Sonko, three other candidates are also seeking the country's top seat.

    Idrissa Seck, who served as prime minister between 2002 and 2004, is campaigning to be president after failing to win the 2007 and 2012 polls.

    Issa Sall, an IT professor who founded a private university in Dakar, is also in the race. The Party of Unity and Assembly candidate, 63, has strong backing from the Sufi Muslim Moustarchidine religious movement. 

    The oldest contestant in the race is 65-year-old Madicke Niang. The former foreign minister is seen as having the least chance of winning the presidency.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News