Senegal Awaits Presidential Poll Outcome As Opposition Takes Lead

210
SENEGAL OPP LEADER

Senegal Awaits Presidential Poll Outcome As Opposition Takes Lead

 

Supporters of the opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye have rallied in the streets to rejoice over their candidate’s early victories in Senegal’s presidential election.

Faye’s victory is coming just a week after his release from prison but his main rival from the ruling coalition insisted that a second round would be necessary to ascertain the winner.

The winner will have to steer Senegal, viewed as a beacon of democracy in coup-hit West Africa, out of three years of turbulence and a political crisis, and manage revenues from oil and gas reserves that are shortly to start production.

Uncertainty remains over the outcome of the unprecedented vote, with official results not expected before the end of the week. An absolute majority is required for a first-round win.

Opposition figure Faye promised voters profound change and a presidential programme of left-wing pan-Africanism.

According to provisional results from individual polling stations published by local media and on social networks, he appeared clearly ahead of the governing coalition’s former prime minister, Amadou Ba.

Newspapers proclaimed Faye the winner on their front pages.

Faye, 44, and Ba, 62, — both former tax inspectors — had emerged as the favourites to win in a crowded pack of 17 candidates.

“It’s almost a certainty because from what we can see, from the figures that have just come in, I’m telling you that there won’t be a second round,” Serigne Aissanine, the youth coordinator of Faye’s coalition, said late Sunday.

Hundreds of Faye supporters gathered at his campaign headquarters in the capital Dakar, singing and dancing to the sound of klaxons and drums.

Young people on motorbikes paraded the streets chanting “to the (presidential) palace”.

Ba briefly appeared in front of his supporters during the night, saying he would give a “definitive” assessment around midday on Monday.

At least eight of the other presidential contenders congratulated Faye in light of initial indications from the ongoing vote count.

But Ba’s campaign said in a statement that according to its experts, it was “certain to be, in the worst-case scenario, in a second round”.

It also accused Faye’s camp of attempted “manipulation”.

“It is not inevitable that Senegal will slide into a populist adventure,” the statement added.

‘Embody change’

A victory for Faye could herald a systemic overhaul in Senegal.

The anti-establishment figure has pledged to restore national “sovereignty”, fight corruption and distribute wealth more equitably.

He has also promised to renegotiate mining, gas and oil contracts signed with foreign companies, with Senegal due to start hydrocarbon production later this year.

“I remain confident about the choice for the change that I am able to embody better than any other candidate,” Faye said as he voted Sunday.

Ba pitched himself as the continuity candidate for outgoing President Macky Sall.

Both contenders presented themselves as the best candidate for young people in a country where half the population is under 20.

“I voted for Diomaye without thinking,” said Diaraaf Gaye, a 26-year-old shopkeeper.

“It’s time for the country to start on a new footing with young people” in power.

Amnesty

Senegal was originally due to vote on February 25, but an 11th-hour postponement by Sall triggered the worst political crisis in decades and violence that left four dead.

Around 7.3 million Senegalese were eligible to cast their ballot.

Hundreds of observers from civil society, the African Union, the ECOWAS regional group and the European Union were on hand.

The head of the EU observer mission, Malin Bjork, said voting had taken place “calmly, efficiently and (in a) very orderly manner”.

Opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko — who was barred from standing due to a defamation conviction — said young people had “massively” turned out to vote.

“We are convinced that at the end of this day, the victory will be dazzling,” Sonko said, referring to Faye, his deputy and endorsed candidate while voting in his southern stronghold of Ziguinchor.

Both Sonko — who came third in the 2019 presidential vote — and Faye were released from prison on March 14 under a rapidly passed amnesty law.

After weeks of confusion, Senegal’s top constitutional body overruled Sall’s attempt to delay the vote until December and forced him to reset the date to March 24, resulting in a rushed campaign that clashed with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Ba, Sall’s hand-picked would-be successor, would inherit Sall’s legacy which includes mass arrests, persistent poverty, 20 percent unemployment and thousands of migrants setting off on the perilous voyage to Europe each year.

Several episodes of unrest triggered partly by a stand-off between Sonko and the state have seen dozens killed and hundreds arrested since 2021.

AFP