Senegal: A Look at Past Elections, and a Look at Maneuvers Ahead of the Second Round

Senegalese may have to wait until Friday for the full official results of Sunday’s vote, the first round of this year’s presidential election, but it seems certain now that there will be a run-off election on either March 18 or March 25. Partial results show incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade in the lead with nearly 35% of the vote, and former Prime Minister Macky Sall in second place with around 27%. So what happens now?

Looking at past elections in Senegal does not, in my view, offer enough data points to deduce a clear trend. Prior to this year, the country held six multi-party elections: 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, 2000, and 2007. Abdoulaye Wade has run in all of them, which is something to think about in and of itself – when and if Wade leaves the Senegalese political scene, it will be irrevocably changed.

In 1978, Wade faced Senegal’s first President Leopold Senghor of the Parti Socialiste/Socialist Party (PS); in the contests between 1983 and 2000, he faced Senghor’s successor President Abdou Diouf; and in 2007 Wade won re-election over a divided field of opponents, many of whom have returned to the field this year.

Only one of these elections – 2000, the year Wade finally defeated Diouf and the PS – went to a second round. With some fluctuations, Wade’s share of the vote steadily increased from 1978 (when he scored 18%) to 2000 (when he scored 31% in the first round). But his triumph over Diouf was only possible with the support of an opposition coalition assembled for the second round in 2000. Ironically, after twelve years in power and a strong showing in 2007, when his 56% share in the first round obviated the need for a second, Wade may end up, this year, only barely improving on his performance in 2000.

A big similarity between 2000 and 2012 has to do with the structure of the two-round system: going to a second round offers opposition leaders, none of whom seems strong enough to defeat the incumbent on his own, a chance to unite and bring about an alternation. Sall in 2012 finds himself in a position something like Wade’s in 2000: he scored less than the incumbent, but the incumbent has good reason to fear that his own numbers will remain flat, while those of the opposition candidate soar. Diouf’s share (around 41%) remained essentially unchanged from the first round to the second in 2000.

A big difference between 2000 and 2012 is that Sall today is not what Wade was in 2000: a leader who had come, over decades, to personify opposition hopes of achieving a democratic transition. In that he has not run for president before and is younger than many other candidates, Sall is “new” (observers have commented that his campaign organization was strong and his message mainstream, which helps explain why he outperformed more seasoned candidates). In the broader political scene, though, Sall is also somewhat “old” – he is Wade’s former protege, a current officeholder, and a former prime minister. Being a partial insider will not necessarily dent Sall’s opposition credentials, though; Wade had also served in government prior to becoming president.

A big question for Sall will be whether he can offer his peers in the opposition sufficient incentives to join him, as Wade did in 2000. Unfortunately, without the full breakdown of results, it’s still hard to know how fragmented the approximately 38% of the vote captured by neither Wade nor Sall is. AFP says that Moustapha Niasse, who interestingly enough scored third in 2000 (with nearly 17%) and later supported Wade against Diouf, also scored third this year (with over 13%). Niasse has promised not to support Wade in the second round this time, but Sall and Niasse’s first-round numbers combined only equal 40%. So how many candidates will Sall have to win over to win the second round?

Then there is the issue of Wade’s advanced age. Senegalese analyst Abdou Lo argues that lower-performing candidates may prefer seeing Wade stay to having Sall take power:

“It will be complicated, for some of the opposition candidates because they know that, if Macky Sall wins, he is going to be there for probably 14 years [ie, two full seven-year terms],” said Lo. “If it is Abdoulaye Wade who wins for the second round, they would have the probability to go in a competition in two or maximum four years.  There is some kind of dilemma here for them.  If they vote for Macky Sall instead of Wade, most of them will end their political career.”

The opposition candidates said they will not support Wade if he fails to win the first round.  The parties and civil society groups that formed the M23 [youth protest movement] have said the presidential candidates should form an alliance to defeat Wade.

For his part, Sall is calling for opposition unity and promising several democratizing reforms:

He vowed to again cut term lengths from seven to five years, saying he himself would adhere to the shorter mandate in his first term.

Sall also promised to change the way members of the constitutional council are appointed after the body’s independence came under scrutiny for upholding Wade’s candidacy.

This decision on January 27 sparked a month of riots which left six dead and marred the west African nation’s reputation as a haven of stability.

While the body currently consists of five judges appointed by the president, Sall said he would increase the council to seven. Three would be appointed by the president, two by lawmakers and two by magistrates.

The former prime minister also promised “measures to reduce the price of basic necessities such as rice and oil”.

I’m learning my lesson about making predictions, so I’ll confine myself to saying that the precedent of 2000 is definitely relevant for 2012, but the two situations are distinct especially insofar as the personal trajectories of the challengers are concerned. Finally, I still take the possibility of fraud seriously – Wade’s past behavior and strong desire to remain in power suggest to me that he might attempt it – although there are compelling arguments that the strength of the Senegalese electoral system reduces the chances of that happening. In any event, announcements of official alliances within the opposition camp, and a look at more detailed results from the first round, should soon give us a better idea of what to expect from the second.

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One thought on “Senegal: A Look at Past Elections, and a Look at Maneuvers Ahead of the Second Round

  1. Pingback: Senegal: Run-Off Confirmed, Macky Sall’s Coalition Grows | Sahel Blog

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