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Senegal president in for tough second-round vote

February 28, 2012 |  8:03 pm

Macky sall
REPORTING FROM DAKAR, SENEGAL -- “He’s finished,” said Aliou Samba, 50, as he handed over money for a newspaper on a sandy side street in Dakar, referring to the chastened incumbent president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade. “He needs to go to bed now.” 
He laughed at the idea he might vote for anyone but leading opposition candidate Macky Sall, in a likely second round to Senegal’s controversial election. “Yes, of course I’m voting for Macky!”
“It feels like the end!” screamed one headline Tuesday morning. “Wade suddenly becomes a lamb!” shouted another. “It’s finished,” said another. 
Wade appeared at a news conference Monday, looking less gung-ho than usual, acknowledging he might not have won the required majority of votes to avoid a runoff.
One day later, it looked certain that the election will run to a second round, pitting Wade, 85, against  Sall, 50, a former prime minister and ally.
With more than half the votes counted, Wade said Monday that he was leading the 13 other candidates with 32.17%. But he needs more than 50% to avoid a runoff. So far, Sall has between 29% and 30% of the vote.
Many believe Sall cannot fail to win in a second round -- with most opposition voters likely to unite behind him, but others say Wade still has a chance.
“Despite the protests, people still voted for Wade, so you see, the protesters aren’t everyone,” pointed out Cheikh Diakhate, 30. “And supporters of [Moustapha Niasse, 72, another former prime minister] say they will never vote for Macky, so it’s no foregone conclusion.”
Wade ignited controversy when he sought a third term despite a constitutional provision limiting presidents to two terms. Wade himself was responsible for the provision.
He said Monday that he would “explore all possibilities of collaboration with other political forces” and added that the votes showed that his nation was still “solidly anchored in the limited circle of modern, mature and peaceful democracies.” 
He thanked the population for exhibiting maturity and tolerance on polling day.
Wade has become unpopular in recent years as the people struggle with rising unemployment, crippling power cuts, spiraling food and petrol prices and a growing food crisis in the north of Senegal.  
Albert Bourgi, African politics expert at France’s Universite de Reims, said Wade was noticeably more humble during his first speech since the election.
“I thought his speech was good,”  Bourgi said. “He was mainly full of humility. ‘Here you go,’ he was saying, ‘Here’s the truth: I won 32%.’ ”
Meanwhile, Dakar seems to have returned to normal after weeks of protests, with most people glued to the radio and TV for news on what is happening in the vote count.

There's an air of hope as suddenly the choice for president is more clear-cut than it has been for weeks: Abdoulaye Wade versus Macky Sall.
Final results of the election will be announced Friday, with a second round scheduled for March 18.


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Photo: Senegalese presidential candidate Macky Sall, center, will probably face off with incumbent Abdoulaye Wade in a runoff election. Credit: Nic Bothma / European Pressphoto Agency