ABDOULAYE Wade, 85, once symbolised Senegal’s early efforts at democratic governance. Now he is the single biggest opposition to his country’s survival as a democracy. His failure to win the required 50 per cent of the votes in the presidential election was a protest against his third term bid after he fiddled with the constitution 15 times in his 12-year presidency.
Wade got only 34.82 per cent of the votes. He will contend with his former associate, Macky Sall (26.57 per cent) in a run off election on 25 March. Two other former Wade Prime Ministers Moustapha Niasse, (13.2 per cent) and Idrissa Seck (7.86 per cent) were third and fourth. Wade dreads them teaming up with Sall.
From a slow and painstaking rise in 1978 when he ran against the venerable Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegalese president from 1960, still regarded as one of the intellectuals of the 20th century, Wade got 17.8 per cent of the votes. Senghor resigned at 74 in 1980 before the end of his fifth term. Against Abdou Diouf in 1983, Wade scored 14.79 per cent, 25.80 per cent (1988) and 32 per cent in 1993.
By 2000, Wade won 58.49 per cent to Diouf’s 41.51 per cent, to become president at 73. Senegalese rejected the prospects of another 20-year presidency, a lesson Wade refused to learn. His 2007 victory with 55.9 per cent should have been his final term.
The run-off will be a contest between youth (Sall is only 50) and the grand old men of Senegalese politics, who use Senghor’s 20 years as standard.
Musician Youssou N’Dour was banned from running, but even Wade is asking for his support, believing his popularity could get him votes.
Senegalese are desperate to throw out Wade. On February 18, Oumar Boucom, a soldier, set himself ablaze outside the President’s residence in Dakar, imitating Tunisia’s Mohammed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old fruits seller, whose suicide to protest police brutality sparked off the riots that are bringing down regimes in the Arab world.
Protests last July stopped Wade from constitutional changes to lower the percentage of votes required for a first-round win from 50 per cent to 25 per cent and creating the position of an elected Vice President. Senegalese alleged Wade wanted to smoothen his re-election against an expected split in the opposition and make his son, Karim, Vice President.
Senegalese are still angry that Wade could take them for granted by changing the constitution for his benefit. Whether Wade wins or loses, Senegal is in a dangerous curve where the electorate do not trust the elected and the elected carry on as if the electorate is irrelevant.