Senegal’s Democracy to face the test of time

Senegal has often been celebrated as an oasis of peace amidst its coup ridden neighbours in West Africa. However, with the recent violence that has rocked Dakar ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections, many have began wondering if Senegal could be on the brink of losing its reputation as Africa’s most stable democracy.  Protestors are up in arms against anti-riot police in down town Dakar, bringing business almost to a stand still and dozens have been reported injured.

The conflict is based on President Wade’s bid for a third term.  Opposition parties are said to have vowed to cause mayhem, should the 85 year old incumbent win the election.  Their bone of contention lies in the fact that the constitution clearly bars President Abdoulaye Wade from contesting in this year’s elections.   Some opposition members are calling for a postponement of the election saying that it would be impossible to hold a free and fair election in Senegal.

President Wade on the other hand sees things very differently.  He has argued that the constitution he helped changed to limit presidential tenures to two terms, came into effect after he was in power, and therefore it was still technically legal for him to run another term.  The ruling party has ruled out the possibility of changing the election dates.  Unless something drastic happens, Senegal is therefore set for elections on the 26th of February.

In the midst of all this, the AU has appointed former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo to head its delegation ahead of the Sunday’s election. Obasanjo has been quoted as saying that he is ready to go beyond merely observing the elections to mediating should the need become necessary.

President Obasanjo is said to have already met with President Abdoulaye Wade and several members of the opposition who include,  Ousmane Tanor Dieng, Youssour N’dour and Alioune Tine. Senegalese newspapers also report that he has also met with the head of the constitutional court, the legal body that has final say over election disputes. It was the court that disqualified Youssour N’dour, one of Africa’s most famous musicians, from running. And it was also the court that ruled that Wade could run for a third term, on the argument that he was elected before the new constitution including term limits went into effect.

International observers, including the EU and US have called on restraint and urged for a peaceful, free and fair election.  At the end of the day as the Africa Review puts it, whatever the outcome, Senegal’s model democracy is this week set to face a stern examination that will either shatter the proud tradition, or leave it even stronger. Many hope for the latter.

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