Wade faces tough fight in Senegal presidential race

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2012 10:54 PM
Wade faces tough fight in Senegal presidential race

By Diadie Ba and Bate Felix

DAKAR (Reuters) - Octogenarian President Abdoulaye Wade, whose bid for a third term has brought violent protests to Senegal, faces a tough challenge from former ally and prime minister Macky Sall in the second round of voting on Sunday.

Wade fell short of a majority in the February 26 vote with 34.8 percent. Sall came second with 26.6 percent. The first-round candidates have now united behind Sall as has civil society group M-23, which has been calling on Wade, 85, to step down.

Campaigning for the second-round vote has been incident free after at least six people were killed in protests before the first round.

Wade hopes to extend his 12 years in power by wooing the many Senegalese who did not vote in February and by courting religious leaders who wield strong influence in the majority Muslim country.

Poverty and mass unemployment remain the two main grievances against Wade, who came to power in 2000. He argues that he has done more than the rival Socialists did in the 40 years they ruled since independence from France in 1960.

Wade said during his last campaign rally in Dakar on Friday: "Poverty has been wiped out of Senegal, but I do not deny that there are some pockets in major cities. I'll take care of it after the elections."

Campaigning has been dominated by the row over Wade's legal right to seek a third term in one of Africa's stable democracies. His bid was endorsed by a Constitutional Council whose head he appointed.

Many voters now view Wade, elected enthusiastically in 2000, as yet another example of a long-serving African leader seeking to hang on to power.

DISPUTED RESULTS?

Sall's manifesto includes a revamp of Senegal's outage-prone energy sector and renewed efforts to end a simmering rebellion in the southern Casamance region, once a tourist hotspot.

Sall, 50, is also hoping to lure voters with a promise to cut taxes on basics, such as rice, in a country where rising food costs mean some households spend half their income to ensure a daily communal bowl of rice and sauce.

Both candidates have said they cannot envisage defeat in the run-off, paving the way for a possible dispute when results come in on Monday or Tuesday, and a possible resumption of street protests. There are more than five million registered voters.

Samir Gadio, London-based emerging markets analyst at Standard Bank, said the market had been negative on Senegal's $500 million Eurobond before the first round vote due to the deteriorating political and security climate.

"The smooth electoral process since and the possibility of an orderly transition in coming days would boost Senegal's historical reputation of political stability," Gadio said in a note, adding this sentiment was now shifting short-term risks to the bond's yield outlook to the downside.

"The main stress point is obviously whether both parties will immediately accept the outcome of Sunday's contest," he said.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)