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published on 27/02/2012

Senegal President Wade in tight race for third term

Senegal President Wade in tight race for third term

Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade was on Monday (February 27) in a tight race with his main rival Macky Sall, according to early unofficial tallies from the most contentious poll in the West African state's recent history, signalling a run-off between the former allies.

The election follows weeks of violent street protests against the 85-year-old Wade's bid for a third term in office despite a two-term limit, and warnings that Senegal's reputation as an established democracy hangs in the balance.

Partial unofficial results published by website SUNU2012, which has been aggregating figures from volunteers at individual polling stations, showed Wade with about 24 percent, ahead of Sall's 21 percent, with 10 percent of the ballots counted.

"It's a good change for the country because (Sall) is an ambitious young man and really, we saw when he was in the governmental machine last time the way he worked. And now he comes to show to his critics that he is here, he's not politically extinct and that he's back," said Pierre Ignace Sagnan, a Sall supporter.

Sall, 50, is a former Wade protege who held several high level posts, including minister of energy and mines, minister of the interior, and prime minister, before falling out with Wade and resigning his posts in 2008.

He was among several opposition figures active in Senegal's M23 protest movement, named after an anti-Wade riot on June 23 last year, that organised near-daily demonstrations in the run-up to Sunday's vote.

Throughout the campaign Wade said he was conflident of a win with an outright majority in the first round.

"We saw that the Senegalese people is wise and people went out and voted massively. The president maybe thought that he was going to win in the first round but people showed him that we've had enough of him, and that he can go," Sagnan said.

Moustapha Niasse, 72, another former ally of Wade's who is also in the race, said that given the results so far, Wade cannot win in the first round, adding that a coalition against Wade in the second round was a must.

Prospects could change rapidly, however, as Wade claims strong support in rural areas of the country where figures may be slower to come in. He has said he is confident of a win in the election's first round of voting.

A candidate must score an outright majority to win in the first round, otherwise the top two candidates compete in a run-off. No official results have yet been released by Senegal's election commission.

If the election does go to a second round many opposition supporters say they will rally behind Sall, no matter who their candidate was.

"If Tanor (opposition candidate who lost) says we have to vote for Macky, we will vote for Macky. I am a socialist and will remain a socialist until I die," said newpaper vendor Boubacar Wassa.

Some 5.1 million Senegalese were eligible to vote for the 14 contenders in the election. Apart from some polling stations opening late on Sunday, voting appeared to have gone smoothly, according to a national network of observers. A few armed soldiers in full combat attire were seen guarding various points in Dakar on Monday.

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