22 February 2019

Senegal: Five Presidential Candidates for Senegal

Photo: © RFI/Guillaume Thibault
President Macky Sall campaigning for re-election.

On Sunday, Senegal will elect a new president. Five candidates are running, each with a specific program. Former president Abdoulaye Wade called for protests against the polls after his son was banned from running.

Senegal's presidential candidates had three weeks to convince voters that they have got what it takes to be elected head of the country. Five candidates are in the race for the office of president in one of Africa's most stable democracies. Incumbent president Macky Sall is seeking his final five-year mandate after coming to power with a seven-year mandate in 2012. A 2016 referendum slashed the seven-year presidential term to five and reaffirmed the two-term limit.

Sall is up against two strong and experienced aspirants: former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck and former Foreign Affairs Minister Madicke Niang. Seck is making his third bid for the top job. The 59-year-old promised to build a modern hospital and a local university in each of the country's 45 departments, as well as a health center in each commune. 65-year-old Madicke Niang wants to reform the justice system.

Specific electoral programs

El Hadji Issa Sall, an academic and lawmaker, and Ousmane Sonko, who is the youngest contestant, are the outsiders in the race. 63-year-old Sall has promised to clean up dangerous suburbs and revamp fish processing plants down the coast. 44-year-old Sonko is a rising opposition figure -- he pledged to renegotiate all gas and mining contracts that have already been signed by the current regime. Another two major aspirants, Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall, were barred by the top court over corruption.

Dr Gilles Yabi, director of WATHI, a pan African think tank, welcomed the candidates' efforts to propose specific electoral programs - something he says is not usually associated with elections in African countries. "I think this is something that merits praise," he said. "There are many elements regarding the justice system in all the programs, such as the construction of a new prison and the setting up of reintegration program for detainees on their release." There would also be incentives and obligations for companies to recruit handicapped people with a specific salary, with penalties to be paid if this is not respected, Yabi added. "There is definitely an effort to present original programs."

Ex-President Wade calls for protests

But the campaign has not been all smooth sailing. Violence broke out in Tambadounda in the south-east of the country, leaving at least two people dead and 24 arrested. Many others were injured following violent clashes between supporters of incumbent Macky Sall and those of El Hadj Issa Sall. As a result, El-Hadji Issa Sall and Ousmane Sonko's parties decided to take a break and stop their campaign caravans.

It is the first time so few candidates are running in a presidential election since 1988. Tensions are running high in the country dubbed the most stable in West Africa. Ex-president Abdoulaye Wade called on voters to burn down polling stations and their voting cards in protest that his own son is barred from running. His party, the main opposition Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS), is not fielding a candidate. Abdoulaye Wade had called for a boycott of the vote citing threats to security but the government dismissed his call.

Content over personality

Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye had given an assurance that the elections would be carried out transparently and said rigging was impossible. However, many Dakar residents are not convinced. Complaints about delays in the issuing of voter ID cards became loud, residents claimed that some people had been waiting for years and still had not received their voting cards. Social media users had also pushed for a first-ever televised pre-election debate with all five candidates, but the National Audiovisual Regulatory Council announced that it would not authorize national television and radio channels to broadcast such a program in the context of the current election campaign.

100 observers from the European Union as well as from Norway, Switzerland and Canada will accompany the election. International communications consultant Amy Sarr Fall thinks that once at the voting booth, people will choose content over personality. "Citizens will ask themselves: Who will help me best to face what awaits me after the election? Who will help me keep my business efficient, who will help me keep my head above water in a difficult economy - and who will help me keep my job?"

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