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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Senegalese election potential watershed for democracy in West Africa

Tomorrow's democratic elections in Senegal may mark the last hoorah for octogenarian, reform president Abdoulaye Wade. Wade, who was elected to the presidency in 2000 by a coalition of all the Senegalese people, including Christians, Animists, and Muslims, leads the socialist opposition party known as the Senegalese Democratic Party or (PDS).

The President's final campaign rally was held Friday in Dakar the Senegalese capitol. Cheered by hundreds of youthful supporters, Wade told the crowd that he would bring jobs to the country’s youth, those who are desperate for a chance to leave the country. Many young men and women attempt to illegally emigrate to Europe in hopes of finding employment.

His election marked the first time since Senegal achieved independence in 1960- after 300 years of French rule that there was a peaceful transition of government when socialist President Abdou Diouf, who had ruled since 1981, stepped aside.

The country of approximately 12 million is the only West African nation to have successfully avoided political violence in the form of a coup, which most observers credit to the Senegalese democratic experience under French rule.

Wade is anticipated to emerge victorious in Sunday’s election having the support of a majority of the country’s Muslim base led by the Mourides. The Mourides are a Sufi Muslim brotherhood founded in Senegal in the early 1900s. Millions of Senegalese claim allegiance to them.

Several days ago, supporters of Mr. Wade were accused of disrupting a rally for a former protégé of the president, Idrissa Seck, who is now a rival for the presidency. Seck's campaign team blamed the attack on followers of Cheikh Bethio Thioune, a Mouride leader who, at Friday's rally, sat on center stage with Mr. Wade. Thioune denied any involvement in the violence at the Seck rally, while at the same time acknowledging that he favors Wade’s candidacy.

Senegalese election rules prohibit any candidate from attaining office without at least a better than 50% minimum of the popular vote. There are 15 candidates in Sunday’s election so Wade, some believe, may not make it in the first round. If that happens there will be a runoff election between the 2 leading candidates on March 11.

In recent years thousands of young Senegalese have arrived by boat, hungry and ill from the hazardous trip, suffering from exposure and angry at the lack of opportunity they say faces them in their home land. No one knows for certain how many have died on these voyages. Their much painful slogan is "BARCELONA OR DEATH"

At the rally the President promised to embark the nation on an unprecedented round of modernization, which would create jobs in construction as the country improves its infrastructure by building modern hotels, airports, highways and a new rail system.

Greener News Room

Additional Resource:: CIA World book, Senegal



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