Senegal will hold the first round of its presidential elections on February 26. Africa for Investor Mouth predicts, “If the lights stay on for voting and the politically-important marabouts do not come out stronger against the president, Wade will win ugly in late February.”
This is my strong sense as well. As Africa for Investor Mouth argues, Wade “remains strong in the face of a divided opposition because of many challengers’ big egos and historical baggage of serving in Wade’s administration.” The opposition’s inability to unite around one candidate who might serve as a focus of popular anger suggests that the country’s protest movement will have trouble translating its support in the streets of Dakar into triumph at the ballot box. Another factor in the mix is that rural support for incumbents has historically run high in Senegal, and Wade seems no exception to this rule.
My perspective on the 2012 elections is strongly shaped – perhaps too strongly – by my experience of being in Senegal for the 2007 presidential elections. At that time, many of my friends in Dakar were convinced that Wade would have a lot of trouble getting re-elected, and that the contest could well go to a second round. In the end, Wade breezed to a first-round victory with 56% of the vote, leaving his nearest rival, Idrissa Seck, at a distant 15%. In the aftermath, one contact told me he was convinced that while Wade had significant support in Senegal, the incumbent had also padded the numbers to get himself past the 50% threshold. I have never seen evidence to support this contention, but it remains a plausible theory in my view. And if it was plausible in 2007, how much more so in 2012? Things have changed in Senegal in the past five years, but I do not think Wade’s desire to stay in power has decreased.
Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, whose reelection bid has drawn criticism from abroad, said in his opening campaign rally that France and the United States had no right to ask him to step aside.
“I do not seek the interest of the toubabs (Westerners), but that of the Senegalese people,” the 85-year-old leader said late Sunday in Mbacke, 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of the capital Dakar.
“The Americans and the French are not the Senegalese’s bosses. Nobody can deny our strength,” he said in a speech marking the official launch of the campaign for the February 26 presidential election.
Senegalese politics could throw up a number of surprises before or after February 26, especially if the elections go to a second round. I would be glad to be wrong in predicting Wade’s victory. But I am expecting him to keep his seat, regardless of the domestic and international opposition he faces.