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New Alternative in Senegal After Wade Defeat

Souleymane Gano

DAKAR, Mar 28 2012 (IPS) - Analysts say that Senegal’s outgoing President Abdoulaye Wade was made to pay for his failure to respond to popular demands, particularly arising from the high cost of basic commodities, a lengthy strike by teachers, and high youth unemployment, by losing his bid for a third term of office.

Fifty-one-year old Macky Sall defeated Wade, winning an emphatic 65.8 percent of votes in a decisive second-round poll.

The provisional results were published in the capital, Dakar, on Tuesday by the national election commission. As the preliminary results began to come out, the 86-year-old Wade telephoned Sall on Sunday to congratulate him.

Among the reasons for Wade’s defeat was the support his rival received from the other 12 candidates who failed in the first round of elections on Feb. 26, as well as from a broad coalition of political parties and civil society associations, notably including a group founded by young rappers called Y’En a Marre, meaning “enough is enough”.

Speaking on national television on Monday, Moustapha Guirassy, a spokesperson for the outgoing administration, said Sall’s victory can be explained by the failure to find solutions to these problems.

“There is certainly a popular desire for change, but social demands are an issue to which we could have tried to find answers,” he said.

Zahra Iyane Thiam, a member of Sall’s campaign team, credited the victory to the efforts of the candidate’s own camp as well as to a wider base of support.

“Although it was our candidate who led the final charge, this was a shared victory, because all the candidates (beaten in the first round), and the popular forces worked together to beat a system which, in our view, is at the root of the difficulties that we’re facing,” she said in an interview with IPS.

Some Senegalese also feared the Wade administration’s tinkering with the constitution for what they saw as merely political reasons, as well as suspecting that the president wanted to impose his son, Karim Wade, as his eventual successor.

The validity of Wade’s bid for a third term as president was challenged from the outset by his opponents. When the Constitutional Council ruled that he could stand, the decision was greeted by huge anti-Wade demonstrations just before and during the campaign for the first round of elections.

Several people were killed in the capital and other large cities in clashes between security forces and demonstrators.

Between the first and second rounds of voting, Wade launched a charm offensive directed at religious leaders, in hopes that they would encourage voters to back him. But this was not enough to help him retain power after 12 years as president – not even combined with massive spending and a raft of campaign promises.

During his time in office, Wade fell out with several of his closest associates, including former prime minister Idrissa Seck, who took 7.86 percent of the vote in the first round.

The man who took over from Seck as Wade’s prime minister was none other than Macky Sall – who at various times also served as president of the National Assembly and as Wade’s number two in the governing Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS).

In 2008, Sall clashed with Wade when, as parliamentary president, he summoned Wade’s son to appear before a parliamentary hearing on the preparations to host a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Dakar. (Karim Wade was head of the OIC’s national agency in Senegal.)

PDS legislators then voted to shorten the term served by president of the National Assembly from five years to one, though this term would be renewable.

Seeing the change as aimed at humiliating him, Sall tendered his resignation not only from his post in the National Assembly, but from all positions he held in the PDS. He set up his own political party, the Alliance for the Republic (APR), and began travelling across the country and forging ties with the Senegalese diaspora to build support.

When campaigning for the presidential elections began on Feb. 5, Sall ignored the call from the broad social movement demonstrating against Wade’s candidacy in Dakar, instead launching his campaign in the countryside.

The unjust treatment received by Sall from his fellow party members in the PDS in 2008 elicited a wave of sympathy, partly explaining his meteoric rise, one of Sall’s political advisors told IPS.

“The difference between us and the other candidates,” said Abdourahmane Ndiaye, “is in the methodical approach, the strategy. Our party was fortunate to have come into existence with a large store of sympathy generated by the martyrdom that we suffered in the National Assembly. And the strategy was to transform that feeling into votes.”

On the party’s promise to lower the cost of basic goods, Ndiaye said: “The first step that we’ll take – before even thinking about the economic decision – will be a political decision. A government can make any product free of charge…”

Ndiaye said that to reduce the prices of essential items, the president-elect would trim public expenditure, looking especially hard at the country’s multitude of agencies and embassies.

As for the composition of the new government, Ndiaye said, “In the run-off, all the coalitions which supported the 12 opposition candidates joined us. This gives us an obligation to work together in governance…We cannot have transparency if we are on our own. It is working with others that will push us to be transparent.”

Appearing on television on election day, Amsatou Sow Sidibé, a law professor at Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University and a presidential candidate defeated in the first round, said: “We will work together. The responsibility is heavy and everyone must help. This is a participatory approach to success.”

Wade’s defeat comes after a coup d’état took place in Mali, another West African country, last Thursday.

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