Politics

Presidential election begins in Senegal

Senegal went to the polls Sunday in an election that incumbent President Macky Sall is tipped to win after his main challengers were banned from running.

His two biggest rivals in the first-round vote in the West African nation — popular former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, the son of the previous president — were disqualified after corruption convictions in trials questioned by rights groups.

People queued in large numbers as the polling station opened at Fatick in the center of the country, where Sall, 56, cast his ballot, as well as at Thies in the west, AFP reporters said.

But the start of voting was delayed at Grand-Yoff, the stronghold of Khalifa Sall.

“I want to get home as soon as possible, I’m frightened there will be violence on election day,” said 25-year-old voter Fatoumata Sall.

“I hope this election goes off peacefully and that tomorrow everyone will be going about their business — that will mean a peaceful vote,” said accountant Lamine Diatta after he cast his ballot in Dakar.

President Sall, a former geologist who first took the presidency in 2012 after beating his former political mentor Wade, campaigned for a second term pitching his “Emerging Senegal” infrastructure project to boost economic growth.

“Victory in the first round is indisputable,” Sall told a recent Dakar campaign rally, seeking to emulate all three of his predecessors by landing a second term — Abdoulaye Wade needed just one round in 2007 to secure his second term.

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

Sall made infrastructure a priority, including a new airport, motorways, and a rail link. But basic services, healthcare, and education often remain inadequate, sometimes triggering strikes and protests.

Sall faces competition from four lesser-known rivals who campaigned hard against his plans for a second phase of his project, which critics see as a waste of taxpayers’ money and a potential debt burden.

His rivals are former prime minister Idrissa Seck, Issa Sall of the Unity and Assembly Party (PUR), former justice and foreign minister Madicke Niang, and tax inspector-turned MP Ousman Sonko.

The five-horse race leaves voters with a limited choice compared to 2012, when 14 candidates vied for the top post, and 2007, when 15 battled it out for the presidency.

Preliminary results were expected soon after polling closes at 1800 GMT on Sunday, but will only become official a day or two later. (NAN)

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