Massive Senegalese ?yes? to change

MORE than 90% of voters have approved a new constitution for Senegal in a weekend referendum, giving President Abdoulaye Wade the green light to dissolve parliament and hold early general elections.

The turnout, the only major unknown before the vote, was 66%, said Interior Minister Mamadou Niang. President Wade had said in the afternoon that a 65% turnout “would already be a success.”

The changes would shorten the presidential mandate from seven to five years, renewable only once, a move expected to boost Wade’s reputation as a democrat.

It would also enable Wade, a lawyer and economic liberal, to dissolve the national assembly, still dominated by his socialist foes. Elections are expected in March.

Wade said he was not in any hurry to dissolve parliament.

“I do not intend to take any action against the national assembly in the next few days [or] in the next few weeks.” He said only that it was important that a vote take place before the rainy season in May.

The referendum came nine months after Wade, long a leader of the opposition, was elected in a landmark vote which ended 40 years of rule by the Socialist Party in the west African nation.

The main parties back the new constitution, which provides for the transfer of some presidential powers to the prime minister, a shortening of the presidential mandate, parliamentary changes and sexual-equality measures.

Wade said in a recent television debate that he was not happy with the current basic law as it gives him “all the power”.

The new constitution abolishes the Senate, turning parliament back into a single chamber national assembly.

It allows women to acquire property on the same terms as men, and outlaws forced marriages.

The country has had a jittery transition, reflected in the mixed record of the coalition government, comprised mainly of former opposition leaders who had difficulty stepping into the breach.

Many Senegalese, while pleased with Wade’s open, frank style of leadership, are still waiting to see living conditions, health services, and education standards improve. – AFP

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Annie Thomas
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