For a long time, I wrongly assumed that Senegal’s judicial authorities had reluctantly accepted President Abdoulaye Wade’s argument that he is exempt from the 2001 constitution’s two-term limit for presidents. Wade says that because he was first elected in 2000, he is “grandfathered in,” and is therefore eligible to run for a third term.
It turns out that his position may be more precarious:
Legal opinion is mounting against Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s plans to run in 2012 for a third term in office, months before a legal body will rule on whether his bid, which has already sparked street protests, is valid or not.
One of the authors of Senegal’s current constitution this week broke years of silence on the issue, saying Wade’s plans would be illegal, adding pressure on the octogenarian leader, who is coming to the end of his second term in power.
Senegal’s constitution allows presidents to only serve two terms but Wade’s camp argues changes made in 2001 meant his first term, from 2000-7, did not count.
Scrutiny is also turning to the Constitutional Council, which must rule on Wade’s candidacy for the February election but critics fear will not be independent as its members were all nominated by Wade.
Senegal has long been seen as haven of stability in West Africa but the combination of Wade’s plans to stand for re-election, high youth unemployment in a rapidly urbanizing population and rolling power cuts have raised tensions.
The Council must rule 29 days ahead of election day, which is currently set for February 26.
“It’s a body that has no credibility at all. They are all appointed by President Wade. It’s more a political body than a legal one,” said opposition leader Abdoulaye Bathily.
The council’s ruling will be, obviously, a highly politicized issue. As Bathily implies, it seems unlikely that a council appointed by the president will toss out his candidacy. But a growing focus on the issue could damage Wade politically even if he retains his legal eligibility. Wade, who looked fairly strong for re-election at the beginning of this year (in large part because of divisions among the opposition), has taken a number of political hits this year, most prominently the withdrawal of his proposed changes to the constitution under pressure from street protesters. Scrutiny of Wade’s eligibility could be yet another opening for the opposition to hammer the president and capitalize on mass youth discontent with him and with the status quo.