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Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Senegal: Wade's historic turnaround
Socialist Party supporters at their final rally last Friday
The Socialist Party are now a small opposition group
By Chris Simpson in Dakar

Abdoulaye Wade used to refer to his Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) as "the oldest opposition party in Africa".

The same party now looks likely to dominate Senegalese politics for the foreseeable future.

Having seen off Socialist President Abdou Diouf in presidential elections in March 2000, Wade now has an overwhelming majority in parliament following legislative elections on 29 April.

Campaigning under the slogan 'Sopi', meaning 'change' in Wolof, a multiparty coalition headed by the PDS has crushed its rivals.

Four weeks short of turning 75, Abdoulaye Wade now has the whole of Senegal looking to him.

History of defeat

Until last year, the PDS's history was dominated by disappointments and defeats.

President Abdoulaye Wade
President Wade: Had to wait a long time for power
Wade formed the party in 1974.

He reportedly approached the then Senegalese President Léopold Senghor at an OAU meeting in Mogadishu in 1973, recommending Senegal break with its one-party system.

Senghor was to find Wade a persistent irritant, complaining that "even if it stops raining, Wade will say I am to blame".

But the PDS soon became an established part of the political landscape, championing Wade's own version of 'liberalism' and building up a strong support base amongst younger voters disillusioned with the Socialist Party's policies.

Wade himself lost to Senghor in the 1978 presidential elections and suffered three further defeats at the hands of Abdou Diouf.

Wade was arrested shortly after the elections in 1988 and 1993, accused of "threatening the security of the state".

Paradoxically, he was also invited into two governments, serving as Minister of State and Minister in the President's office. Wade's acceptance of office brought accusations of betrayal from sections of the PDS.

He resigned or was forced out on both occasions, emphasising major differences with his colleagues.

Victory at last

Wade spent more than a year in France before returning in Senegal in October 1999, ready for a fresh tilt at Diouf.

Abdou Diouf
Wade's old rival Abdou Diouf now lives in France
After losing in the first round, Wade took 58% of the vote in the second and Diouf accepted defeat.

During his first year in office, Wade preached the merits of partnership. Moustapha Niasse, leader of the Alliance of Progressive Forces (AFP) and a former Socialist foreign minister, was brought in as prime minister.

But relations within government were strained. Wade sacked Niasse in March, triggering accusations from AFP supporters that the PDS was reluctant to share power.

Those accusations resurfaced during the presidential elections, with both the AFP and the Socialists warning the electorate against giving Wade a parliamentary majority.

Wade effect

Both parties complained of a 'Wade effect' during the three-week campaign.

The 'Sopi' coalition was prevented from putting Wade's photograph on its ballot papers, but Wade still featured heavily at Sopi rallies around the country and was unquestionably the coalition's main electoral asset.

Critics said Wade should have stayed out of the contest, acting as a neutral head of state, not a party leader.

But whatever reservations opposition parties had about the elections, they have had to accept the electorate's vigorous endorsement of 'Sopi' and its leader.

Prior to polling day, PDS Secretary-General Idrissa Seck had talked of the coalition winning 72 of the 120 seats in the new national assembly.

With last results still awaited, it seems likely that the PDS and its allies will have at least 100 seats.

One party rule again?

The AFP and the Socialists will be lucky to get 20 between them, forming a disconsolate rump.

We could be back with a one-party system all over again

Name Here
The turnaround has been dramatic and the victory far bigger in scale than even Wade had anticipated.

With the historical roles now reversed, the Socialists are talking of Senegal taking a big step backwards.

"Wade says he has always been a democrat, but now he has got more seats than is good for him", said one sceptic.

"Ironically, we could be back with a one-party system all over again".

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See also:

24 Apr 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Senegal
07 Apr 01 | Africa
Senegal election campaign begins
16 Jan 01 | Africa
Senegal heads for early elections
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