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Abdoulaye Wade, one of Africa’s oldest leaders, is facing the prospect of defeat in Senegal after an election that protesters say he should never have been allowed to contest.
The 85-year-old had been confident of gaining enough votes in the first round to secure an outright victory.
But Wade has admitted he will fall short of the required 50% majority. He is now likely to be challenged by Macky Sall, 50, his former prime minister.
Wade’s best chance of clinging to power may have gone.
In the first round the opposition was split between 13 candidates.
Senegal’s newspapers on Tuesday ran headlines such as: “It’s finished,” “Wade suddenly becomes a lamb!” and “It feels like the end!”
Critics such as the singer Youssou N’Dour have argued that the constitution should bar Wade, who has been in power for the past 12 years, from seeking a third term. He brushed off the complaint, triggering street protests in which at least six people died, a shock in the usually stable west African state.
Spectators booed and jeered Wade loudly when he went to cast his vote on Sunday, a once unthinkable scene that caused his bodyguards to whisk him away. The polls were otherwise calm and ran smoothly, however.
With results from around half the country’s polling stations in, Wade was on 32%, ahead of Sall on around 25% but still well short of the 50% needed to end the contest.
The president suffered a humiliating defeat in areas of the country that used to be his stronghold. In the capital, Dakar, he trailed in third.
With counting ongoing, EU and US observers said they thought a first-round winner was increasingly improbable.
‘We know how to count’
Wade himself conceded as much. Amadou Sall, a spokesperson for the Wade campaign, said: “The results that we have clearly indicate that there will be a second round. We don’t need to be told it. We voted peacefully, with dignity and in complete transparency. We don’t need to be taught any lessons—we know how to count.”
Moustapha Niasse, another ex-premier under Wade, now heading for third place with around 13%, has called for opposition supporters to vote against Wade in the runoff. “Stopping Wade is an imperative, it is a necessity, this is a must,” he told French RFI radio.
Turnout was around 60% in the election, with many Senegalese having to queue for hours to vote. In Dakar’s working-class neighbourhood of Parcelles Assainies, residents said they were confident in their electoral democracy.
Mamadou Diane, an unemployed teacher, told Reuters: “Maybe the president thought that with the force of the state he could push the vote through, but people are determined to make a change.”
The 90-member EU observer mission questioned why Senegal’s government is not publishing real-time results, saying that in the internet age there is no reason for the delay.
Final results will be announced on Friday, with a second round scheduled for 18 March.—
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