Candidacy of Senegal's Wade now critics' target

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2011 9:29 AM
Candidacy of Senegal's Wade now critics' target

By David Lewis and Diadie Ba DAKAR (Reuters) - Having forced a dramatic U-turn over constitutional changes, the rivals and critics of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade are set to intensify their campaign to block him from standing in next year's election.

The capital Dakar was calm on Friday after violent street protests on Thursday had forced Wade to abandon proposed changes to the election law that appeared designed to smooth his path to re-election in February 2012.

The protests, which injured more than 100, has energized his vocal but mostly disorganized opponents, and may herald a turbulent run-up to the election in a country that has been spared the strife of many others in West Africa.

"The battle that was won does not put an end to our fight to restore law and order ... and legitimacy," the leaders of the campaign group "Don't touch my constitution!," which had led the protests, said in a statement.

"One last battle remains: to make sure ... Wade does not try and impose his candidacy in 2012. This would be illegal, illegitimate, inopportune and dangerous for the stability of Senegal and the sub-region."

After years in opposition, Wade came to power in 2000 and is coming to the end of his second term. His supporters argue that constitutional changes in 2001 mean that the first term did not count, so he is eligible to stand in next year's poll.

This, and the proposed changes to the election law, have angered many in a country that has enjoyed decades of peace. But basic services like water and electricity remain poor in sprawling neighborhoods, while an elite appear to prosper.

"The people have taken back power" read a headline on Friday in the daily newspaper Le Populaire.

In an editorial headlined "The end of a myth," private newspaper Walfadjiri said Thursday's protests marked a sea change and were an unprecedented show of anger against the president.

"(Wade) can no longer count on the apathy of the armchair opponents to modify the laws of the country as he wishes," the newspaper said.

The Benno Siggil Senegal opposition coalition, which has long struggled to build a united position against Wade, says it is going to insist Wade does not stand in next year's poll.

DISAPPOINTING DESPITE PROMISE

Over the last decade, Senegal has become an increasingly important regional hub for business and international organisations. It has a eurobond and is a strategic partner for Western nations in a turbulent region.

J. Peter Pham, director of the U.S.-based Michael S. Ansari Africa Center think tank, said Wade had disappointed after coming to power with "extraordinary promise."

"His stubbornness and rather blatant attempt to foist a dynasty on the Senegalese people may well prove the ruination of a wonderful country if he gets the third term that he himself declared unconstitutional just a few years ago," Pham said.

Aside from trying to reduce from 50 to 25 percent the minimum needed to win in the first round, Wade had sought to introduce the role of vice president, which critics said might have been filled by his powerful and unpopular son, Karim.

Top donors the EU and the U.S. issued public statements of concern this week over the planned constitutional changes, saying they needed broader public debate.

A senior international business executive said firms were watching the situation closely, especially in the context of uprisings in North Africa.

"It is business as usual today ... But things could get nasty if (the opposition) pushes on that (Wade's candidacy)."

(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Robert Woodward)