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published on 13/02/2012

Senegal's Wade confident of re-election, opposition cries foul

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade speaks during an impromptu election campaign rally in the capital Dakar. (Reuters)

Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade took to the campaign trail in the country's capital of Dakar, to the cheers of thousands his supporters who lined the streets on Tuesday (February 07). Wade said he expects to win a new term as leader of the West African state in the first-round of upcoming elections, dismissing opposition demands he renounce his candidacy.

The octogenarian leader has come under pressure at home and abroad to step down amid complaints from his rivals that his effort to take a third term is unconstitutional. At least four people have been killed in protests in the normally tranquil nation, since last month.

Wade's rivals say his bid for a third term in the February 26 polls breaches rules setting a two-term limit. The president argues that his first term should not be counted as the limit was added to the constitution in 2001, a year after he had begun his time in power.

"The M23 movement, which is dragging along opposition members, does not have any political platform to offer to the Senegalese people. Now that the electoral material is ready and the ballot papers have been printed, they now want to contest Wade's candidacy, which has been proved by the constitutional court, it just shows that the opposition is once again playing games," said Wade ally and chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the Senegalese parliament, Doudou Wade.

Wade will face more than a dozen rivals in the election, including former allies Macky Sall and Idrissa Seck. A run-off will be held if no candidate wins more than half the total vote.

An opposition demonstration a day before also drew thousands of people, who marched from a main university to the Medina district near the centre of town before they were stopped by police.

The crowd was dispersed peacefully.

"We are saying no to resistance, we are saying no to sitting around and doing nothing . We call on all Senegalese to stand up and fight for their constitution, fight for the state of law, fight for the republic because the state is under threat," said M23 movement co-ordinator, Alioune Tine.

Wade's candidacy in the polls was approved last month by the country's top legal body. The decision sparked riots and drew criticism from foreign donors, especially the United States, which said the bid posed a risk to Senegal's stability.

For some analysts, Wade's win is a foregone conclusion that may lead to a power sharing deal with the opposition as a way to keep all sides happy.

"Wade has a plan, he will stay in power. He will then launch an appeal, and then there will be mediations that will take place. Senegal is a country that respects dialogue, the religious leaders, the civil society leaders will intervene, and those that lost will form a coalition government with him. Like he announced on December 31, on the evening of February 26, believe me, Wade will still be in power. Believe me, there will be skirmishes, people will take to the streets, and some people will seek to settle some sores with certain political personalities and after that they will form a coalition government," said political analysts Jupiter Tamsir Ndiaye.

Foreign electoral observer missions have started arriving in Senegal, ahead of the February 26th polls.

"Everything is ready for this observer mission. We are happy to have had the opportunity to train the observers for days, especially when it comes to issues regarding the electoral process. Now that they are trained, they are ready to give us all the specific information, from every department, which will help us in our analysis and will for helps us in our conclusions," said Tommaso Caprioglio, deputy head of the European Union Electoral observer mission in Senegal.

Wade's rivals, who include music star Youssou N'Dour, have so far struggled to forge a unified front against him. Wade, who led street protests before coming to power in 2000, has mocked the opposition for failing to mobilise a serious challenge and dismissed foreign criticism.

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