Opposition in Senegal declare run-off possible

Full official results from the vote are expected by Friday midnight at the latest.
Men look at newspaper front pages hung on a rope in Fann Hock neighbourhood, in Dakar, on February 25, 2019, one day after Senegal’s presidential elections. – Macky Sall, a stolid 56-year-old ex-geologist who challenged his former mentor to become president, won in the first round of the election on February 24, his prime minister said, although his two main challengers look set to contest the outcome. (Photo by SEYLLOU / AFP)

Senegalese leader Macky Sall’s camp crowed victory on Monday after presidential elections for which his key rivals had been barred, but the opposition dubbed the declaration premature and predicted a runoff vote.

Full official results from the vote are expected by Friday midnight at the latest. If none of the five candidates wins more than 50 percent, a second round is scheduled for late March.

Prime Minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne sparked controversy by declaring Sall’s victory just hours after polling closed on Sunday.

He claimed Sall had won in 13 regions, according to early results, and only lost in one.

“The results allow us to say that we should congratulate President Macky Sall on his re-election,” Dionne said, predicting his boss would receive “at least 57 percent” of the vote.

Sall’s two main challengers — former prime minister Idrissa Seck, who is making his third run for president — and taxman-turned MP Ousmane Sonko, immediately challenged that claim.

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“A second round is inevitable,” Seck said.

“At the current state of the vote count, no candidate, I say no candidate, including myself, can claim to have won the presidential election,” added Sonko.

Senegal has a population of 16 million of whom 6.7 million were registered to vote. A source in the interior ministry told AFP that turnout appeared to be around 68 percent.

A geologist by training, Sall took over as president in 2012 after beating his former mentor Abdoulaye Wade.

He campaign for a second term championing his “Emerging Senegal” infrastructure project to boost economic growth.

A new system approved by parliament last year required presidential candidates to demonstrate support from a minimum number of citizens and regions.

Once the regulations went into force, only seven candidates made the cut, but two of them — popular Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, the powerful son of President Sall’s predecessor, were then disqualified over their convictions for misuse of public funds, which they say were engineered to bar them from the race.

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As a result, neither the Socialist Party nor the Senegalese Democratic Party, which have dominated the country’s political landscape since independence, fielded presidential candidates.

Despite tensions spawned by the conflicting results claimed by the government and the opposition, the coastal capital Dakar was calm on Monday.

However, there was less traffic and the state-run bus company did not run its services, fearing attacks on its vehicles.

The opposition also accused private and international media of inflating the figures to favour Sall, an accusation denied by some news organisations.

Some voters like Fatou Kane Aidara, who lives in a Dakar suburb, said the figures claimed by the presidential camp were solid.

“The results are coming directly from the counting offices and the journalists are taking them after they have been published and transmitting them to radio and television stations,” she complained.

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Often held up as a model of stability in Africa, Senegal has enjoyed strong growth. The Muslim-majority country has largely escaped the jihadist attacks that destabilised neighbours such as Mali.

Sall has made transport infrastructure a priority. But basic services, healthcare and education often remain inadequate, sometimes triggering strikes and protests.

Senegal has known two peaceful power transfers in 2000 and 2012 and has never experienced any coups. But election campaigns are often marred by charges of corruption, disinformation and sometimes violence.

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