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Senegal - Politics

Senegal is a presidential republic, with an elected National Assembly. The Senate was abolished in 2001, but reintroduced in 2007. The President is permitted to stand for two terms of 5 years, although President Abdoulaye Wade did one term of 7 years from 2000 to 2007, in line with constitutional provision in 2000.

Abuse by the security forces, including torture, arbitrary arrest, harsh prison conditions, and lengthy pre-trial detention, are problems. The government has taken steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who have committed abuses, but impunity still exists. The government also announced a comprenhensive renovation and rehabilitation of prisons in 2018.

Senegal is one of the most politically stable countries in Africa. Free and fair presidential elections in March 2012, for which the EU deployed an Election Expert Mission (EEM), brought Macky Sall to the presidency. The regular organisation of legislative elections, political pluralism, a free press, and a vibrant civil society are all proof of Senegal's democratic culture.

Senegal’s history since independence is one of strong central government, due in part to the French Gaullist legacy and in part to the initial need for a strong central government to build the Senegalese nation-state. All of Senegal’s first three presidents used patronage politics to govern. Patron-client relationships with the Marabout leaders [religious scholars who, in some cases, may make amulets and tell fortunes] of the Sufi brotherhoods provided popular support for Léopold Senghor, Abdou Diouf, and Abdoulaye Wade. All three used enhanced executive power to practice “presidentialist” politics as heads of three successive dominant parties, the Union Progressiste Sénégalaise (UPS), the Socialist Party (PS), and the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS).

Then the period of democratic transitions stemming from the end of the Cold War saw the rise of an awakened citizenry in the 1990s, a trend that was amplified in 2011. In 2000, Senegal’s voters ended the Senghor/Diouf legacy of socialism in hopes of spurring economic growth, and in 2012, they ended Wade’s wild “liberalism” in hopes of starting an era of good governance.

Abdoulaye Wade won the Presidential elections in 2000 after a second round run off against Diouf. Diouf quickly conceded defeat and there was a peaceful transition to the country's first ever non-PS Government. Legislative elections were called in the following year. PDS centred coalition won convincingly.

On February 25, 2007 President Wade won 56% of the vote in a field of 15 candidates, with 73% of registered voters going to the polls. Twice-postponed parliamentary elections took place on June 3, 2007, but most of the major opposition parties boycotted them, allowing the ruling PDS and its allies to capture 131 of the 150 seats in the National Assembly. Wade won open, peaceful, and highly competitive elections in 2000 and 2007 due to a strong Senegalese national desire for change after nearly 40 years of Socialist Party governments. Having come under tough scrutiny and criticism for not realizing many of his campaign promises, he has undertaken major public works projects that benefited him politically. In the March 22, 2009 local elections held nationwide, the opposition made substantial gains, including the defeat of Wade’s own son, Karim, in Dakar.

President Wade advanced a liberal agenda for Senegal, including privatizations and other market-opening measures. He has a strong interest in raising Senegal's regional and international profile. The country, nevertheless, has limited means with which to implement ambitious ideas. The liberalization of the economy is proceeding, but at a slow pace. Senegal continues to play a significant role in regional and international affairs, including its successful brokering with the African Union of the June 4, 2009 agreement among the three main parties to Mauritania’s crisis regarding a return to constitutional order in Nouakchott.

With Wade's dominance of the political scene confirmed, the political future of Idrissa Seck is uncertain. Tanor Dieng confirmed his strong base in the PS by being re-elected Secretary General of the party in October 2007. With a difficult economic context, especially in terms of oil prices, Wade had to deal with social unrest in the public sector. This was compounded in November when a march by unions coincided with riots caused by government attempts to clear street traders from some areas of Dakar.

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