Senegal anti-establishment candidate closes in on presidential victory

Senegal anti-establishment candidate closes in on presidential victory

DAKAR: Senegal’s anti-establishment candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye appeared late Sunday to be closing in on a first-round victory in a presidential poll that follows several years of unrest and a political crisis.

The winner 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.

Opposition figure Faye, 43, had promised voters profound change and a presidential programme of left-wing pan-Africanism.

Faye 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.

Five other contenders congratulated the opposition candidate on a first-round win, 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”.

Papa Djibril Fall, Mamadou Lamine Diallo and El Hadji Mamadou Diao made similar declarations.

Faye and Ba had emerged as the favourites to win in a crowded pack of 17 candidates.

ALSO READ: Hundreds protest in Senegal to demand speedy elections

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.

Radio and television stations read out the results from each of the 16,000 polling stations in Senegal and abroad without aggregating them.

Official results are not expected before the end of the week.

Faye 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.

Both contenders had also 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.

On Sunday, voters queued calmly outside polling stations, many having woken up early to pray before daybreak before heading straight to polling stations.

Voting materials including ballot boxes were still labelled with the original February poll date.

“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.

Both Faye and Ba said they were “confident” of a first-round victory after casting their votes earlier Sunday.

An absolute majority is required for a candidate to win in the first round.

– Calm, efficient –

Sall, who is not standing after serving two terms, warned candidates against making premature election victory claims.

“It is neither up to a candidate, nor to a (political) camp to proclaim victory or results,“ Sall said after voting with his wife in the central western town of Fatick.

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”.

ALSO READ: Thousands of Senegalese march with elections back on

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 urged people to vote “for experience and competence instead of entrusting the reins of the country to adventurers”.

But Sall’s legacy also 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.

A rapidly passed amnesty law led to the March 14 release from prison of Faye and the charismatic Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential poll.


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