Observers question lack of results in Senegal

AP News
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Posted: Feb 28, 2012 2:03 PM
Observers question lack of results in Senegal

European Union observers on Tuesday questioned why Senegal's government is not publishing real-time results from a contentious presidential election, saying that in the Internet age there is no reason for the delay.

Sunday's election pitted the country's 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade, who has refused calls to step down and is seeking a third term, against a field of 13 opposition candidates.

Results from individual polling stations are being relayed on private radio stations and on the website of the state news service, but the government says it won't issue an official tally until Friday.

Opposition leaders have criticized Wade, who held a press conference Monday to announce that he is ahead with 32.17 percent of votes tallied so far. They said it is not the place of the president, but rather of the election commission to announce results.

"At this very hour, the provisional results are not yet known," said the head of the delegation of European parliamentarians, Cristian Dan Preda.

"It's completely regrettable that this lack of information is fueling tension and suspicion. The administration would gain a lot of transparency if it started publishing in real time the information that it has at its disposal," he said. "In the Internet era it's inconceivable that the Senegalese will need to wait until Friday to know the official results."

Based on results issued by private newspapers and by the president, it appears that none of the candidates got the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Wade, however, was handed a humiliating defeat in areas of the country that used to be his stronghold.

In the capital, Dakar, he came in third with 71,930 votes, behind opposition candidates Moustapha Niasse with 72,486 votes and Macky Sall, who was leading with 80,556 of the 326,500 votes cast, according to results published by the state-owned news service.

It's a long way to fall for Wade, who spent 25 years as the country's main opposition leader. When elected in 2000, he was so popular that his rallies were attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Even in the polling station where he has voted for decades, Wade was loudly booed on Sunday when he went to cast his ballot .

Many believe that for Wade to maintain power, he needed to win in the first round when the opposition was split. His chances of winning are much slimmer in a runoff when he will be facing a united opposition.

Wade has refused calls from both France and the United States to retire, insisting on running for a third term in contradiction of the term limits he himself introduced into the constitution, but, he says, do not apply retroactively to him. Weeks of protest preceded the vote, endangering the reputation of a nation considered a model of stability.

Thijs Berman, the head of the 90-member observation mission, said that although the campaign leading to the election was marred by violence, the actual vote proceeded peacefully. Few irregularities were noted, among them the late opening of some polling stations and the fact that not all election monitors checked to make sure that voters dipped their fingers in indelible ink.

Wade has appeared disconnected from the growing criticism, telling reporters that he was going to win with a crushing majority and the demonstrations were "nothing more than a light breeze."

Ibrahima Mbow, a spokesman for the coalition supporting Sall, the leading opposition candidate, used Wade's words against him during a TV round-table discussion Monday night hosted by private channel Africa-7.

"Seventy percent of Senegalese rejected him," said Mbow. "He said it was a little breeze? This breeze is now threatening to blow over his throne. He needs to go."

"He refused to leave via the big door. Now we'll watch him crawl out the window."