Banjul, The Gambia – As Senegalese voters prepare to head to polls on February 26, a major controversy is surrounding the incumbent president, 86-year-old Abdoulaye Wade. Wade is now seeking a third term in office, against the country’s constitution.
One year after Wade took power in 2000, he amended the country’s constitution to impose a two-term limit for the presidency. He also reduced the presidential term to five years from seven, following the completion of his first term in 2007.
After his re-election in 2007, President Wade promised to abide with the constitution and stick to the two-term limit, meaning he would not stand for election in the 2012 poll.
However, Wade surprised the nation – or at least his opposition – when he announced plans to stand for a third term, saying the two-term limit did not apply to him because he was first elected in 2000, before the constitution officially took effect.
To top it all off, Wade also attempted to amend the constitution again, this time for his own good, by lowering the votes required to win the presidential election from 50 to 25 per cent. He later backed down from the amendment, after thousands of young people took to the streets in protest.
Those demonstrations helped trigger a movement known as Y’En A Marre – French for “Fed Up!” – headed by a group of rappers and journalists, who have been mobilise and organise protests against Wade’s presidency.
Wade’s candidacy for a third term has now been approved by the country’s constitutional court – the most sniro judicial body in the country. Wade’s candidacy was formally submitted on January 24 by his campaign manager, Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye, also the country’s prime minister.
However, the credibility of the court has been questioned, as each of its judges and justices were named by the president. Many people believe that the court is under Wade’s influence, and that has prompted it to rule in his favour. The court, among other things, has the mandate to ensure that the presidential candidate is a Senegalese citizen, literate and at least 35 years old.
Violent protests erupted in Dakar after Wade’s name was released as one of 14 eligible candidates for the presidency.
Before the announcement, Lamine Souare, an analyst, said there would be issues regardless of which way the court ruled. “If the constitutional council should announce that the he [Wade] is qualified as a candidate for the presidential election there will be problem – because the opposition and the youth are already saying that he is not qualified, and his candidacy is not valid,” said Souare.
“If they should announce that Wade is not qualified, then there will be problem as well – because his party militants may protest against that decision.
“And this problem could have been avoided long before the election if the council published the list earlier … but now the release of the list of eligible presidential candidate is very close to the election, so any protest or chaos could undermine the whole election process.”
Who is expected to win the election?
Senegal constitution change sparks protests
There are more than 150 opposition parties in Senegal, but fewer than 20 parties are active – and those are the ones that will challenge Wade in the upcoming elections. The main opposition parties are the Rewmi Party led by Idrissa Seck, the Alliance for the Republic led by Macky Sall, the Socialists’ Party led by Tanor Dieng and the Alliance of Progress Forces led by Mustapha Niasse. Each of these party leaders have been prime ministers under Abdoulaye Wade’s regime, but broke away and formed their own political parties.
Most of the other parties are marginal and little more than platforms for their leaders.
However, several Senegalese opposition parties had, for the past two years, tried to come up with a single candidate to challenge Wade in the election – but their talks were fruitless, unable to reach a unanimous decision, and thus reducing their chances of beating Wade with their individual parties.
Despite the divided field, the opposition’s best hope is that Wade’s votes will not reach the 50 per cent threshold in the first round and thereby force a second – in which it would be possible for activists to unite around a single opposition candidate and defeat the incumbent.
The ultimate outcome of the first round will also depend partly on the integrity of the vote, of course; some fear that a rigged or partly rigged election will give Wade more than 50 per cent in the first round, rendering moot the question of how well the various opposition candidates perform.
Wade also came to power with the support of opposition parties in 2000. In that election, Wade took second place in the first round, having received 31 per cent of the votes, and for the first time, Abdou Diouf, the incumbent president, did not win a first round majority – consequently a second round was held. Wade won this round with 58.49 per cent of the vote, having received the support of candidates from the first round, including third place Moustapha Niasse – now one of his key opponents.
In the 2007 presidential election, Wade won in the first round with 55.9 per cent of the vote – far ahead of his nearest opponents: The Rewmi’s Idrissa Seck garnered about 15 per cent and Socialist leader Ousmane Tanor Dieng won 13.6 per cent. The opposition parties did not accept the result.
“Wade, whose presidency has been marred by allegations of corruption and nepotism… will win in the first round because he has the finances to campaign.“
However, as of now, many analysts believe that if Wade, whose presidency has been marred by allegations of corruption and nepotism, is to stand for this election he will win in the first round, as he has the finances to campaign. Recently, he is said to have dished out millions of francs, and plots of land, to hundreds of his key party leaders.
However, when Wade’s campaign convoy is expected to be interrupted by frequent youth protests. They often complain that when he took office, the prices of basic goods started (and have continued) to skyrocket, while the earning power remains stagnant or depreciating.
He has widely been criticised for excessive spending on what have been described as “prestige projects”. This includes commissioning a 50m bronze statue (the African Renaissance Monument), for which Wade claims 35 per cent of all tourist revenues – because of his “intellectual property” in conceiving the idea.
In his New Year’s address, Wade said that he envisaged a government of national unity if he won next month.
Of the 12.4 million Senegalese population, more than five million are said to have registered to vote in the February 26 elections, up from the 4.88 million voters in the 2007 poll. There is also expected to be a higher voter turnout than the 70 per cent reached in 2007, as many civil society organisations in the country have been offering intensive voter education.
The past elections of the country were all termed “free and fair”.
Lamin Jahateh is a Gambian journalist and the editor and publisher of Gambia News Online.
Follow Lamin Jahateh on Twitter: @LaminJahateh
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.