Senegal opposition candidate closing in on victory, ruling camp contestsMon, 25 Mar 2024 01:43:53 GMT

Senegal’s anti-establishment candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye appeared early Monday to be closing in on victory in a presidential poll that follows several years of unrest and a political crisis, while the governing coalition said it was certain of a second-round vote.Whoever comes out on top will be tasked with steering Senegal, viewed as a beacon of democracy in coup-hit West Africa, out of its recent troubles and managing revenues from oil and gas reserves that are shortly to start production.Uncertainty reigned over the outcome of the poll, with official results not expected before the end of the week and an absolute majority is required for a first-round win.Opposition figure Faye had promised voters profound change and a presidential programme of left-wing pan-Africanism.He appeared clearly ahead of the governing coalition’s former prime minister, Amadou Ba, according to provisional results from individual polling stations published by local media and on social networks.At least seven of the presidential contenders congratulated Faye in light of initial indications from the ongoing vote count.”Congratulations to Bassirou Diomaye Faye on his unquestionable victory,” the only woman candidate, Anta Babacar Ngom, posted on X, formerly Twitter. Dethie Fall congratulated Faye “on his fine victory, clearly achieved in view of the very strong trends that are emerging”.Faye, 44, and Ba, 62, — both former tax inspectors — had emerged as the favourites to win in a crowded pack of 17 candidates.Hundreds gathered at Faye’s campaign headquarters in the capital Dakar late Sunday, singing and dancing to the sound of klaxons and drums. Young people on motorbikes paraded the streets chanting “to the (presidential) palace”. The atmosphere was more sombre among the few dozen supporters at Ba’s headquarters.But Ba’s campaign management said that according to its experts, it was “certain to be, in the worst case scenario, in a second-round”.It also accused Faye’s camp of attempted “manipulation”. “It is not inevitable that Senegal will slide into a populist adventure,” the statement added.- ‘Choice for the change’ -A victory for the opposition’s Faye could herald a systemic overhaul in Senegal.The anti-establishment figure has pledged to restore national “sovereignty,” fight corruption and distribute wealth more equitably. He has also promised to renegotiate mining, gas and oil contracts signed with foreign companies, with Senegal due to start hydrocarbon production later this year.”I remain confident about the choice for the change that I am able to embody better than any other candidate,” Faye said as he voted earlier Sunday.Ba meanwhile pitches himself as the continuity candidate for outgoing President Macky Sall.Both contenders pitched themselves as the best candidate for young people in a county where half the population is under 20.”I voted for Diomaye without thinking,” said Diaraaf Gaye, a 26-year-old shopkeeper, earlier in the day.”It’s time for the country to start on a new footing with young people” in power.- ‘Finally got there’ -Senegal was originally due to vote on February 25, but an 11th-hour postponement by Sall triggered the worst political crisis in decades that left four dead.Some 7.3 million Senegalese were eligible to cast their ballot on Sunday.Voters queued calmly outside polling stations, many having woken up early to pray before daybreak before heading straight to polling stations.”We finally got there. May God be praised,” said Mita Diop, a 51-year-old trader. “Recent times haven’t been easy for Senegal which has experienced several upheavals.”Opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko — who was barred from standing due to a defamation conviction — said young people had “massively” turned out to vote.”We are convinced that at the end of this day the victory will be dazzling,” Sonko said, referring to his deputy and endorsed candidate, Faye, as he voted in his southern stronghold of Ziguinchor.Hundreds of observers from civil society, the African Union, the ECOWAS regional group and the European Union were on hand.The head of the EU mission, Malin Bjork, said voting had taken place “calmly, efficiently and (in a) very orderly manner”.After weeks of confusion, Senegal’s top constitutional body overruled Sall’s attempt to delay the vote until December and forced him to reset the date to March 24, resulting in a rushed campaign that clashed with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Ba, Sall’s hand-picked would-be successor would inherit Sall’s legacy which includes mass arrests, persistent poverty, 20-percent unemployment and thousands of migrants setting off on the perilous voyage to Europe each year. Several episodes of unrest triggered partly by a stand-off between firebrand Sonko and the state have seen dozens killed and hundreds arrested since 2021.