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Friday, 10 March, 2000, 14:14 GMT
Senegal opposition step up challenge
Abdoulaye Wade
The 74-yr-old Mr Wade is strengthening his position
The two leading opposition contenders in Senegal's presidential election have stepped up their campaign to unseat President Diouf, with the announcement of a deal.

Mr Moustapha Nyasse, who came in third in the first round polls, says he is backing the second-placed contender, Abdoulaye Wade, in exchange for the job of prime minister if Mr Wade wins.


If my people don't elect me, it is clear that I will go into retirement.

President Diouf
Mr Nyasse spoke to reporters after he held talks with Mr Wade about an electoral strategy for the second round scheduled for 19 March.

The incumbent president, Abdou Diouf, who has ruled Senegal for the past 19 years says he will quit politics if not re-elected for another seven-year term.

"It's obvious that if my people elect me, I will retire in 2007. But if my people don't elect me, it is clear that I will go into retirement from politics immediately," he said.

Late promises

Mr Nyasse, a former UN official, emerged as kingmaker after the first round of elections when he won nearly 17% of the votes.

The veteran opposition leader, Abdoulaye Wade came second with nearly 31% of the votes.

President Diouf
President Diouf is the first incumbent to face a second round
And for the first time in Senegal's history, the incumbent president failed to win the 50% of votes needed for him to be declared outright winner.

President Diouf managed only about 41% of the votes.

"I have understood that the Senegalese people yearn for change, profound and rapid change, and I have to come to tell them that I am ready to move in the direction they have indicated," Mr Diouf said after the results.

Defectors

Mr Nyasse's support will be a welcome boost to the 74-year-old Mr Wade, who has also secured the backing of the other key defeated first round candidates.


The housewife wants to see her basket a little heavier and the youth need employment.

President Diouf
The opposition alliance, which includes major figures who have defected from the ruling party, has proposed a populist measure in saying it will abolish the unpopular and largely unelected upper house of parliament or Senate.

There are also proposals to make the future prime minister more accountable to parliament.

Senegal is one of the continent's oldest multi-party democracies and the ruling party has never lost power before.

Wooing the abstainers

The results of the first round have created an unprecedented level of political excitement.

The governing Socialist Party - which is in fact very liberal - says it can still win the second and decisive round, by mobilising voters who abstained in the first round.

The party, which has been in power for an unbroken 40 years, says it will embrace the mood for change that has been expressed by the electorate.

Some 2.7 million people are registered to vote, but only around 1.6 million - just under 62% - turned out in the first round.

President Diouf is hoping to get abstainers out to back him in the runoff.

Media blitz

The president, who has never had to maintain any regular contacts with the media is now engaged in a campaign to court the media and voters. He is now holding unusually frequent press conferences.

He says he now knows what the Senegalese people want.

"The Senegalese wish to see an improvement in their living standards. The housewife wants to see her basket a little heavier and the youth need employment.

"These are the changes the country needs, and I am committed to making such changes," he said.

Our correspondent says that what is really at stake is whether a genuinely democratic election and perhaps a peaceful change in government is possible.

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See also:

28 Feb 00 |  Africa
Row over Senegal vote
27 Feb 00 |  Africa
High turnout for Senegal poll
25 Feb 00 |  Africa
Election violence in Senegal
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