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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 February 2007, 19:13 GMT
Senegal's praised democracy on trial
By Hamadou Tidiane Sy
BBC News, Dakar

Senegal's presidential election takes place on Sunday, amid growing concern over the future of the country's democracy.

Former PM Idrissa Seck
Former PM Idrissa Seck is a serious contender

When Abdoulaye Wade was elected president seven years ago, Senegal received applause across the world for what was a landmark event.

Not only did Mr Wade defeat an incumbent fairly at the ballot box after decades spent in opposition, but his bitter foe showed considerable magnanimity in defeat.

On a continent where presidents are rarely beaten, it was a surprise, even among Senegalese citizens, when President Abdou Diouf called his long-time arch-rival to congratulate him and acknowledge his victory.

Seven years on and aged 81, President Wade is seeking a second term and has had to learn new campaign tactics.

Now he is being judged on his achievements as the country's leader and criticism has been widespread.

The government's failure to create jobs and raise living standards dramatically as it had promised, as well as many corruption scandals have featured prominently in opposition campaigns.

First round

For Mr Wade's campaign manager, Prime Minister Macky Sall, "there's no doubt" that his candidate "will be re-elected as early as the first round of polls".

Dakar scene
Dakar is gridlocked by road-building projects at present

But, with a total of 15 presidential candidates many of whom backed Mr Wade in 2000, analysts say there is a fair chance no-one will secure 50% of the vote and a run-off will be necessary.

For Senegalese citizens, the confident noises coming from the Wade camp remind them of what the ruling Socialists said before losing in 2000.

Mr Wade's supporters maintain their candidate needs time to finish the job he has started, pointing out the many big projects taking place in the Senegalese capital.

This week, 2.5 km of a new tarred road was inaugurated in Dakar but the rest of the city still resembles a huge building site, with major work under way on several of the main arteries at the same time.

The endless traffic jams will undoubtedly lose Mr Wade some votes from Dakar's frustrated drivers and commuters.

Democracy

Recent measures like a ban on an opposition march and the arrest of several opposition leaders or journalists who dared criticise the leader, have also led many people to question President Wade's democratic credentials.

Market woman in Senegal
Living standards have risen - but very slowly

"He has turned the country into havoc," says an angry Abdoulaye Bathily, one of President Wade's former allies in 2000 who is now standing against him.

"We have surely gone backward in terms of civic liberties," said opposition leader Madior Diouf assessing Wade's seven-year term.

In 2000, Mr Diouf was in the opposition coalition which took Mr Wade to power. This time around he is in another alliance of opposition leaders supporting Moustapha Niasse - who served as Mr Wade's prime minister and is now one of his main rivals.

But possibly the biggest surprise during the campaign has been the huge crowds attracted by the candidate of the former Socialist Party, Ousmane Tanor Dieng.

Once vilified, they have focused their campaign on government failures and what they call the "amateurism" of those who took over from their party in 2000.

The party has also attracted those unhappy with the government and those who have switched allegiances in recent years.

There are also four independent candidates - criticising "professional politicians" who they say have failed the country and are only out for themselves.

The election therefore is not only a genuine test for President Wade, but also for the democratic system so highly praised seven years ago.




SEE ALSO
Q&A: Senegal election
21 Feb 07 |  Africa
Country profile: Senegal
18 Jan 07 |  Country profiles

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