The Senegalese are known for campaigning loudly, musically and enthusiastically, yet the country’s reputation for democracy and stability in turbulent West Africa has taken a knock as it prepares for elections on Feb. 26.
When Senegal’s top court gave its blessing last month to President Abdoulaye Wade’s third-term ambitions, his opponents angrily took to the streets to demonstrate their disapproval.
Senegal was tense as police clashed with protesters demanding that the president withdraw his candidacy.
Opposition presidential candidate Moustapha Niasse, Wade’s onetime prime minister, used strong language to describe Senegal’s octogenarian leader during a recent protest march.
“Let me tell you that Abdoulaye Wade is a political delinquent,” Niasse said. “His electoral campaign is illegal. We are the ones who are campaigning legally.”
Senegal’s opposition maintains the president’s re-election bid violates both the spirit and the letter of the constitution, which Wade himself had amended to introduce a two-term limit.
The presidential camp, backed by the Constitutional Council, argues that the change came into force after Wade took office 12 years ago, so the term limit does not apply.
The Constitutional Council also threw out the candidacy of Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, who announced his presidential bid last month. The court said he did not have the required number of signatures.
Although the opposition is presenting a united front against Wade, it has failed to back a single candidate, with about a dozen contenders challenging the president.
Lewis Lukens, the U.S. ambassador to Senegal, is quoted by the Senegalese media as calling Wade’s candidacy “unfortunate” in an interview, published on Seneweb.com. Lukens said it was regrettable that “President Wade has chosen to compromise the elections and threaten the security of his country by his insistence on running for a third term.”
In a spirited response to U.S. criticism, President Wade as good as told the U.S. to “mind your own business.”
“You should know that the Senegalese people [are] a free people. [They] will decide if I have two mandates or three mandates or four mandates or five mandates,” Wade told NPR. “This must be a question for the Senegalese people and not for foreigners from France or the United States.”