Election 2012: Senegalese President Concedes Landslide Victory to Former Protégé
Macky Sall has become Senegal's fourth president in 52 years after incumbent Abdoulaye Wade offered his congratulations just hours after polls closed in the run-off election on 25 March.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
Abdoulaye Wade has calmed the fears of Senegalese fearing he would not renounce power quietly by telephoning his former prime minister Macky Sall to concede defeat in the presidential poll.
Sall appears set for a comprehensive victory as initial results showed him beating the incumbent by a ratio of around two to one in most polling stations.
The new leader must tackle what he has termed "several emergencies" including a disastrous public finance situation, as well as balance the demands of election challengers in building a consensus government.
Jubilant backers of Macky Sall gather outside his campaign
Macky Sall will be only the fourth president of Senegal since independence in 1960 as he looks set for a crushing victory over incumbent Abdoulaye Wade. So comprehensive was the margin that Wade telephoned the man who was once tipped to be his successor in a more ordered inheritance to concede defeat just hours after polling closed yesterday in the second round. Wade's gesture was an unexpectedly humble and conciliatory move after a fraught election campaign which brought unprecedented violence to the streets of Senegal over Wade's eligibility to run for a third term. He telephoned Sall to congratulate him at around 9.30pm (2130 GMT), and the leader in waiting held a midnight press conference in a Dakar hotel to announce he would be "president of all Senegalese". He added: "The real winner remain the Senegalese people." Initial results published by state media showed Sall beating Wade by a ratio of at least two to one in the overwhelming majority of polling stations.
Although full results will take some time to filter through, and the country then has to steel itself to tackle a dismal economic legacy left by Wade, most Senegalese will be breathing a sigh of relief at the peaceful conclusion to the most bitterly contested election in the country's history. The seeds were sown when Wade tried to use the Senegalese Democratic Party's (PDS) dominance of parliament—gained in a boycotted election—to force through constitutional changes including the reduction of the threshold for first-round victory to 25%, and the creation of a post of vice-president. The latter point was widely taken to be a way of engineering the inheritance of his deeply unpopular son Karim, who had been handed control of so many departments including infrastructure and energy that he was nicknamed "minister of the sky and the earth". Violent protests struck Dakar as the National Assembly was debating the bill, moving Wade to withdraw it (see Senegal: 24 June 2011: Senegalese President Forced Into Election U-Turn Amid Violent Protests).
That proved to be the last time for some while that Wade would listen to popular protest as he continued to maintain that a two-term presidential limit—which he himself had introduced—could not be applied retrospectively and he could therefore stand for a third term. A coalition called M23, composed of a number of political parties and activist groups from Senegal's very lively civil society, was formed to campaign against Wade's candidacy and called regular demonstrations to keep the issue at the top of the political agenda. It was also driven by a sense of bewilderment that someone with a proud political record would want to tarnish his reputation and legacy by refusing to stand down and that he felt so desperate to secure a third term at the age of 85—an age which many Senegalese joke is "before tax", as the absence of a birth certificate suggests he may be closer to 90. The final ruling was given by the Constitutional Council on 27 January, less than a month before the first round of the election. The Council, which is full of Wade appointees, gave him the green light, prompting the first in a series of violent clashes in which there were six deaths in the run-up to the election (see Senegal: 30 January 2012: Riots Break Out as Senegalese Court Confirms President Can Run Again).
During the campaign, Wade continued to insist he would win an outright majority but was given a sober dose of reality, first when he was booed at his own local polling station and then when results revealed he had scored just 34.81% (see Senegal: 2 March 2012: Election 2012: Presidential Challenger Promises Sweeping Reforms in Senegal as Support Swells). Sall won the unreserved endorsement of every one of the 12 losing candidates, which helped bring about a much more peaceful second campaign. Even on the eve of the vote, though, Wade refused to contemplate losing, saying: "The possibility of my defeat is absurd." Such delusional comments worried many Senegalese that he had a trick or two up his sleeve, such as massive vote-rigging, which Sall consistently warned about, or a campaign of violence using PDS supporters. So the meek admission of defeat was surprising, but was also a reaction to a result which could be more comprehensive than he had ever feared. Back in Wade's own polling station in the upmarket Point E neighbourhood, he lost by 417 votes to 120, and similar results elsewhere indicate similar humiliation.
Limited Cause for Celebration
Even before Wade's concession, thousands of people had spilled out on to the streets and started celebrating around the capital Dakar. The jubilation was particularly intense in Independence Square, which had been repeatedly closed off to demonstrations by the authorities in the run-up to the first round. The delight was driven more by having got rid of Wade than by Sall being elected, as the new president is largely an unknown quantity despite an impressive record in government under Wade, who he served as prime minister from 2004-2007. Sall fell out with his mentor the following year after trying to summon Karim Wade for questioning and spent most of his time since then touring the country and building up support for his presidential challenge. That hard work put him well in advance of the other challengers to Wade, and having achieved that, he merely had to avoid any catastrophic blunders in the second campaign to seal victory.
The "honeymoon" period will undoubtedly be short, as Sall admitted in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) earlier this month that "several emergencies" loom. They include a "dramatic public finance situation", a food crisis in the north where around 800,000 people are going hungry due to a drought in the Sahel region; a catastrophic power generation situation; and the 30-year long insurgency in Casamance region, which has sparked back into life in the last 15 months. Sall has also said he wants to halve the government by removing 20 ministers, and reduce Senegal's diplomatic representation abroad, using the savings to lower the price of basic goods which have been rising rapidly and causing great hardship. The cutting of the Cabinet will not please the losing presidential candidates who will surely be expecting some reward from Sall for their backing. He will also need to carefully select allies to help him build up a political base, having only created the small Republican Alliance in 2009 as a vehicle for his presidential ambitions. Last, but by no means least, he will surely look closely at the mismanagement of public finances and possible corruption, which many Senegalese believe has come to characterise the Wade government in its second term.
Outlook and Implications
Wade's concession has at least taken the sting out of a bitter campaign and has enabled Senegal to make a good start in drawing a discreet veil over a period which has harmed the country's image as a beacon of democracy in a volatile West African region. The need to set an example is even more acute in a week when neighbouring Mali has suffered a military coup after two decades of democracy. Wade's call echoes the much-lauded congratulations offered by his predecessor Abdou Diouf in 2000, although his baffling insistence on standing for a third term has done irreparable harm to his reputation. Many commentators are already arguing, however, that Senegal's own reputation is, in the end, enhanced and its democracy strengthened. The will of the people has been expressed and respected through the ballot box while influential youth groups, such as the rapper-led Y’en a Marre, emphasised that young people should vote rather than riot, under the slogan: "My voting card, my weapon". Wade's candidacy was all the more baffling as he had so little solid achievement to point to for 12 years in charge other than infrastructural projects that many Senegalese felt were a reflection of his own vanity and urge to leave a visible legacy. The consequences of economic mismanagement, corruption, regular power failures and a refusal to engage with the Casamance conflict now fall to Sall. Most Senegalese seem ready to cut him plenty of slack, but the challenge is immense.
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