Opposition cries foul as Senegal holds tense vote

Tuesday April 24 2018

A man picks ballot papers prior to casting his vote in Senegal's legislative election, on July 30, 2017 in Dakar. The election has been complicated by the record 47 lists of candidates in the running. PHOTO | AFP | SEYLLOU


Senegal voted in a tense general election Sunday, with ex-president Abdoulaye Wade accusing his successor of engineering problems with the ballot to prevent an opposition victory.

The vote to elect a new parliament is seen as a test run for incumbent President Macky Sall ahead of a 2019 presidential election and follows a campaign marred by violence.

There was an estimated turnout of almost 54 per cent, said public broadcaster RTS citing official sources.

The first results are due early Monday in the west African nation, where more than 6.2 million people are registered to vote.

Some complained of being left off the electoral rolls, and there were delays to voting in several places.
"I'm going home. I've checked at several polling stations and my name doesn't figure anywhere. However I normally vote here," complained Souleye Tine in Dakar's working-class Medina neighbourhood.

Wade, pointed the blame firmly at the president after a campaign that at times saw violent clashes in a country normally known for its peaceful democratic traditions.


"Macky Sall arranged it — he gave instructions so that in all the places where he thinks the opposition is going to win, there's no voting," Wade said.

"An election in which one of the candidates cannot find his ballot papers in the polling stations cannot be called an election," Wade said in reference to delays due to the absence of ballot papers for several electoral lists.

"I call on all voters who have voted to stay at their polling stations until the results are announced, to witness whether the results conform to reality."

Angry voters

At 91, Wade, who returned last month for the election campaign after two years abroad, is aiming to drum up support for his own list of candidates and his son Karim, who is not on the ballot but has ambitions for the presidency.

Sall, in power since 2012, is seeking to bolster his parliamentary majority as he eyes a second term.

Polling stations were due to close at 6:00 pm (1800 GMT) but in the central city of Touba the governor said people could vote until midnight after particularly long delays worsened by heavy overnight storms.

A polling station in the city was vandalised by voters angry that ballot papers for Wade's coalition were unavailable, official news agency APS reported.

A police statement said a total of 147 polling stations had been trashed and three people, all candidates on Wade's list, had been detained.

Sall's other main opponent, Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall — no relation of the president — is in jail awaiting trial for what supporters say are politically motivated embezzlement charges.

The mayor had been seen as a key contender for 2019 and a potential threat to the president in parliament until he was charged in March with allegedly misappropriating 1.83 billion CFA francs ($2.85 million) in city funds.
Nevertheless, early partial results and forecasts from the media put the mayor's electoral list significantly ahead in the capital and among Senegalese expats who for the first time have direct representation, with 15 of parliament's 165 seats set aside for them.

Calls for calm

Ex-president Wade had accused the government during the campaign of seeking to thwart an opposition victory through selective delivery of the biometric ID cards needed to vote, with several hundred thousand failing to arrive on time.

The constitutional council eventually moved to relax the rules so that people without the cards could use passports or other forms of identification to cast their ballots, along with proof they had applied for the IDs.

The election has been complicated by the record 47 lists of candidates in the running, meaning 47 types of ballot paper needed to be available at polling stations.
Wade has accused Sall of "destroying" Senegal, while the president's side say Wade did not do enough to develop the nation while in power, boasting of their achievements in building a new airport and other infrastructure projects.