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Mark Doyle on the campaign trail
"These elections could be a turning point"
 real 28k

Sunday, 27 February, 2000, 20:17 GMT
High turnout for Senegal poll
Abdoulaye Wade at rally
Abdoulaye Wade has considerable public support
By Mark Doyle in Dakar

There has been a high turnout in presidential elections in the West African state of Senegal where the most closely-fought election since independence has been taking place.

Voting was disrupted in parts of the southern Casamance region, where a simmering rebellion has been taking place for many years.

A statement from the Senegalese military said rebels had attacked villages in two locations but that the army had pushed them back.

There were also isolated violent incidents directly related to the elections, but not the widespread unrest that the opposition had been hinting at prior to the polls.

The vote was held in an atmosphere of great political tension

The main opposition candidate - a wealthy lawyer, Abdoulaye Wade - had made it clear he would not accept yet another victory by the ruling Socialist Party.

Threat

He threatened to call on the army to intervene - in effect, recommending a coup d'etat - if there was any suspicion of cheating by his long-time rival, the incumbent president, Abdou Diouf.

Overturned vehicle in Rufisque
There has been some violence in the run-up to the vote
This is more than just political scare-mongering.

Unlike previous elections in Senegal, there is a real chance that President Diouf may not win the necessary 50% of the ballot needed to triumph in the first round of voting.

This is because Mr Diouf faced several significant candidates, apart from Mr Wade, and had also lost key support from the conservative Islamic brotherhoods, which have traditionally been the kingmakers in what is a mainly Muslim society.

On the other hand, many in this very poor country of 10 million people and 2.7 million registered voters might genuinely support and have voted for President Diouf simply because he represents stability.

Queues

In central Dakar, long lines of voters queued up patiently, many of them wearing the beautiful flowing robes or bou bous that are a hallmark of this part of West Africa.

They registered, chose their candidate, then dipped their fingers in indelible ink - one of the measures designed to prevent double voting or other types of fraud.

The ruling Socialist Party had clearly mobilised the powerful electoral machine it has built up over 40 unbroken years in power.

But opposition parties, led by Mr Wade, were also very active, hoping that this time they could achieve their election slogan Sopi, which means 'change' in the local Wollof language.

Senegal was one of the first African states to adopt a multi-party political system in the early 1980s and, for a long time, was held up as a beacon of democracy on a continent of one-party states and military dictatorships.

However, despite having numerous political parties, the same party has held on to power for 40 unbroken years.

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25 Feb 00 |  Africa
Election violence in Senegal
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