DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Hundreds of people filled the streets of Dakar outside the airport Monday to welcome former Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade, who has returned to lead his party into legislative elections after spending years abroad following a failed bid for a third term in office.
The 91-year-old flew into Dakar Monday from Paris, accompanied by his wife Viviane. He retains a strong support base in Senegal, which is holding legislative elections July 30.
Wade has returned to head up the list of candidates for his opposition Senegalese Democratic Party. He is also heading up other opposition parties who are coming together in an effort to get a majority in parliament, and Wade's return is key to that effort.
Security was tight as those eagerly awaiting his arrival held up signs and cheered him. He stood waving from the sunroof of a car, dressed in blue and gold with a white scarf and black hat.
Wade last returned to Dakar in April 2014 as his son, Karim Wade, was to face trial for charges of corruption and illegally accumulating fortune. Authorities then had canceled a rally that was to welcome him, citing security concerns.
Karim, a former Cabinet minister, served half of his six-year prison sentence and moved to Qatar after being freed in 2016. Wade's supporters said his 2015 conviction was evidence of a personal vendetta against the family. The Wades have dismissed the charges as politically motivated.
Wade became president in 2000, but his reputation as a rare African democrat crumbled in the months before the 2012 election amid criticism that he was giving increasing power to his son. Senegal was rocked by street protests that paralyzed the capital during the elections. Demonstrators called for Wade not seek a third term.
Wade finally lost to current President Macky Sall in the 2012 runoff, and withdrew abroad.
Senegal on July 30 will elect 150 deputies to Parliament. If Wade's party obtains more than 75 seats, it will be a majority. Some critics have claimed he may have his party propose an amnesty law for his son, so that he can run in the presidential election of 2019.
President Sall's popularity is up and down amid complaints he hasn't done enough to improve the lives of ordinary Senegalese.
Prime Minister Mohammed Dionne has said that Sall's party seeks a majority to pursue projects initiated during his term for Senegal's development.
In March, Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall — who is not related to the president — was also arrested and charged with embezzling public funds, charges he denies. The mayor is a popular figure in Senegal and a likely opposition candidate for the 2019 elections. His lawyers have called the arrest an attempt to prevent him from running in this month's elections.