Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Turning out to vote in Senegal

Voting was colourful in the city of Thies, 70 km to the east of Dakar and Senegal's second most populous city. Men and women, young and old, turned out after mosque prayers in their hundreds at Kaba Sall primary school to exercise their right at the ballot box, waiting for several hours in the midday sun in queues that snaked round the campus courtyard.

A common complaint was that people have yet to feel the trickle down of the 4-5% economic growth that the country has been averaging since President Abdoulaye Wade's crushing victory in 2000 - a sentiment made more acute when coupled with the rising costs of living and stagnating wages. Wade's famed 'grand' infrastructure projects, including a super highway and a new airport, don't fill bellies.

Senegal's electorate is increasingly dominated by its politically conscious youth: 'More and more young people are voting, it is they that have the future, it is they that can work the computers and have information,' said Pap, 43 years old and an employee of Senelec, the electricity parastatal. 'Many of our leaders have been with us since Independence', he said referring to the 81-year-old Wade. 'It is time for a new epoque.' Abou Deng, a 19-year-old female student voting for her first time, agreed: 'I am voting for change.'

The sheer throng of people out to vote dispelled the nervousness of the past few days. Saturday night in Dakar was uncharacteristically quiet, the streets were subdued and the many usually thriving restaurants and bars were closed. This is the hometown of Wade's principal challenger and once trusted lieutenant, Idrissa Seck. Political tensions were raised on Thursday after Seck's convoy was attacked in the capital by supporters of a local Marabout, an ally of Wade, who hurled rocks at his Hummer jeep. Several of Seck's staff were injured but the challenger himself sped away unharmed. Seck told Africa Confidential on Sunday that the incident was an assassination attempt ordered by Wade.

Turnout was high across the country, with early results giving the President a lead and indicating a strong showing by the formerly governing Parti Socialiste. On Monday, Wade's staff briefed journalists that Wade had already won. Premature pronouncements only heighten suspicion surrounding the President - and raise the spectre of further violence. None of the [unofficial] opinion polls gave Wade a first round victory. Socialist candidate Ousmane Tanor Dieng says that he has evidence of a 'plan of fraud' initiated by President Wade - an accusation seconded by Idrissa Seck. The full results will not be out until at least late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

No comments: