Senegal Votes In Delayed Presidential Election

Senegal Votes In Delayed Presidential Election

By Spy Uganda Correspondent

Voting was under way in Senegal on Sunday in a delayed presidential election many hope will bring change after a turbulent political period that triggered violent anti-governmental protests and boosted support for the opposition.

At stake is the potential end of a regime that has pushed investor-friendly policies but failed to alleviate economic hardship in one of coup-prone West Africa’s more stable democracies just as it is poised to become an oil and gas producer.

Nineteen contenders are vying to replace President Macky Sall, stepping down after a second term marred by unrest over the prosecution of firebrand opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and concerns that Sall wanted to extend his mandate past the constitutional limit.

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The incumbent is not on the ballot for the first time in Senegal’s history. His ruling coalition has picked former prime minister Amadou Ba, 62, as its candidate.

About 7.3 million people are registered to vote. In the capital, Dakar, hundreds of voters patiently lined up hours before polls opened on time at 0800 GMT.

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In the ocean-facing neighbourhood of Ngor, fisherman Alioune Samba, 66, said he was voting for the change everyone wants.

“Food, water, school; everything is expensive with the low income we have in Senegal,” said the father of three.

Polls close at 1800 GMT and provisional results are expected by March 26. Voting bureaus will begin posting their tallies from Sunday night.

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Sonko, in jail until recently, was disqualified from the race because of a defamation conviction. He is backing the co-creator of his now dissolved Pastef party, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who was also detained almost a year ago on charges including defamation and contempt of court.

An amnesty law passed this month allowed their release days before the vote. They have campaigned together under the banner “Diomaye is Sonko”. Some high-profile politicians and opposition candidates have backed Faye’s candidacy.

“The population is choosing between continuation and rupture,” Faye said after casting his vote, urging contenders to accept the winner.

Other candidates include ex-Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall (no relation to the outgoing president), entrepreneur Anta Babacar Ngom – the only woman running – and Idrissa Seck, who was second in the 2019 election.

“Senegal remains a democratic country, so I am very proud,” said Ngom after voting, reiterating her promise to restructure the economy and protect democratic rights.

Without opinion polls it is unclear whether any candidate will secure the more than 50% majority required to prevent a runoff.

Macky Sall, first elected in 2012, is leaving after a drop in popularity that deepened when authorities sought to postpone the vote to December. It was initially scheduled for Feb. 25.

The move stoked unrest and concerns about authoritarian overreach in the nation of about 18 million, prompting Senegal’s Constitutional Council to rule that the vote should go ahead before the end of Sall’s mandate on April 2.

After voting, Ba called for peace and said he wished for the Senegalese people to find out their next president soon and calmLy resume their daily lives.

Sonko, who was third in the 2019 election, is particularly popular among urban youth frustrated by a lack of jobs and high living costs in a country where 60% of the population is younger than 25.

Most of Sonko’s supporters are expected to vote for Faye, analysts say.

“We are certain that at the end of this day our victory will be blinding,” he said after voting in the southern town of Zinguinchor, of which he is mayor.

Faye has promised to root out corruption, restore stability and prioritize economic sovereignty.

But some of his pledges, such as plans to renegotiate oil contracts just as Senegal is due to begin offshore oil and gas production, have raised concern over the country’s image as a destination for investors.

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