Dakar, Senegal – Polls have opened in Senegal‘s presidential election, the first since a 2016 referendum approved a cut in presidential mandates from seven to five years.
At least 6.5 million Senegalese registered to take part in the poll, which will be open from 08:00 GMT until 18:00 GMT on Sunday.
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The electoral commission has set up about 15,000 voting stations across the West African country of 15 million people.
President Macky Sall, who is seeking a second and final term in office, became the frontrunner after two of Senegal’s most well-known opposition leaders were barred from running in 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, while 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.
Vote counting will start shortly after the polls close with provincial results released by February 26 and official final results not later than March 1.
Speaking after casting his vote at a polling station in his home town of Fatick, Sall said “This voting day is a very important moment for the democratic cycle. It is an illustration of popular sovereignty. I’m asking you to accomplish your duty as citizens in peace and calm in order to decide what we will do over the next five years.”
At a recent campaign rally in Dakar, Sal said: “Victory in the first round is indisputable.”
A candidate must secure more than 50 percent of the votes to be declared the winner. If no contestant has garnered that, a runoff between the two leading candidates will be held on March 24.
Presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko said after casting his ballot in Ziguinchor, Casamance, that “It is time for Senegal to turn the page”.
“I hope that tonight this page will be turned. We hope that we will be the winner of this election but if it isn’t the case, and if the election is conducted with transparency, I will congratulate the winner. But if the election is not transparent, without doubt, we will contest it, because the meaning of an election is democracy, transparency and freedom.”
The election period has been relatively peaceful but Amnesty International said at least two people have been killed in campaign-related incidents since February 4.
In Dakar’s Medina neighbourhood, a short distance from the city centre, voters had started lining up long before sunrise.
At a polling station in the Alasane Ndiaye Allo primary school, Mousse Cisse said voting was proceeding smoothly.
“Everything is going well. I will vote then go back home to wait for the result,” the 45-year-old trader added, as more people trickled into the polling station at Alasane Ndiaye Allo primary school.
Few steps away, dressed in a white traditional dress, Rosso Ba said she had waited for two hours to cast her ballot.
“I want a positive change in my country. I want change to happen without any violence after the election,” the 55-year-old told Al Jazeera.