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Senegal Votes Calmly in Contentious Poll

February 26, 2012

Anne Look | Dakar

Voting is calm in Senegal, despite concerns of unrest following weeks of violent protests against incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade's controversial bid for a third term.

Polling began as much as two hours late in some parts of Dakar, although voters said they remained determined to cast ballots.

Waiting for her polling station to open almost an hour after the scheduled time, Emilie Mendy says she hopes this election will return calm to the country. She says there was too much violence during campaigning, and it is a crucial moment for citizens to do their civic duty and vote peacefully.

Legality questioned

Opposition leaders say incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade's bid for a third term is unconstitutional, citing a reform he signed into law in 2001 that limits presidents to two terms. The presidentially-appointed Constitutional Court ruled last month that reform does not apply retroactively to Wade's first term.

The decision sparked riots, with protesters clashing with police. The pre-electoral violence killed at least six people, although demonstrations eased in the days leading up to the vote.

Voter Mariame Faye says the youth of this country have lost hope and a population with no hope is a ticking time bomb. She says when people no longer have dreams, nothing can move forward. This, she says, is where Senegal is today.

Elected in 2000 with great popular support, Wade has increasingly lost favor in the face of rising living costs, youth unemployment, and years of power cuts. Critics say the 85-year-old incumbent is too old for a third term and wants to transfer power to his unpopular son, Karim.

The president denies these accusations and says he needs another mandate to finish several large-scale projects, including a new airport outside Dakar.

Opposition frontrunner, Macky Sall, voted in Fatick, where he is the mayor.

Sall says he is happy to see such a high turnout of voters casting ballots peacefully and he hopes the same is true nationwide. He says Senegal is a mature democracy and that through a free and transparent election it can solve its political problems without the casualties and problems it has seen in recent weeks.

Split opposition

Analysts say the large field of 13 opposition candidates could split the vote in Wade's favor. There are concerns that a Wade victory in the first round could reignite tensions.

Senegal's electoral code says results of Sunday's vote must be announced by Friday at midnight.

Voter Makane Tane says the vote is going well but problems could come when results are announced. He says what matters now is that there is no fraud and that votes being cast in polling stations are what is reported when results are announced.

Retired teacher Boubacar Ndiatou says protesters in downtown Dakar do not represent the views of the whole country. He says President Wade campaigned nationwide without problem and has the support of the majority of Senegalese.

European Union election observers have expressed concern over delays in distributing voter cards. The EU mission says it is still investigating claims of fraud involving the purchase of voter cards.

About 15,000 registered voters are not able to vote in the country's southern Casamance region near the border with the Gambia after a separatist rebel group hijacked a transport of voting materials Saturday. The Senegalese army says another convoy carrying voter materials to the region was attacked this morning.



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