After the Toronto municipal election in late 2010, the Canadian Federal election in early 2012, and the Ontario provincial election in October (which I worked on full-time) — and with the States’ 2012 election already dominating the headlines — I arrived in Senegal pretty much electioned-out. Tough luck for me. The first round of Senegal’s presidential elections will be held on February 26th!
Just a few days before I arrived in Senegal, its constitutional court ruled that the incumbent president, Abdulaye Wade, is eligible to seek a 3rd consecutive term on February 26th. Wade first earned a 7 year presidential mandate in 2000. Then, in 2007, he ran again — this time under a recently amended constitution providing for a 5-year (rather than 7-year) mandate. Incidentally, the constitution was amended again in 2008 to restore the 7-year term, but in any case, all of these constitutions restricted presidents to no more than two consecutive terms. So at first glance, it’s hard to understand how the president can run again. However, article 104 of the amended (2008) constitution states that “Le Président de la République en fonction poursuit son mandat jusqu’à son terme. Toutes les autres dispositions de la présente Constitution lui sont applicables.” Roughly, “The President of the Republic currently in office may serve his mandate to its completion. All of the other provisions of the current constitution apply to him.” President Wade argued, and the court ultimately agreed, that given this provision, his second mandate — under the previous constitution — didn’t count towards his two terms. Clearly, some Senegalese find this logic questionable. So in the week following the constitutional court’s ruling, major protests in Dakar and other cities across Senegal claimed several lives.
The situation has calmed some now that the campaign has started in earnest. Clearly though, Senegal is groping its way through a dangerous time. It’s a fascinating period to be in Senegal. Everyone is talking politics all the time. The newspapers are jam packed with political stories every morning. The streets are full of political billboards and posters. The candidates are out main-streeting and door-knocking. In fact, in just two weeks, I’ve already seen two opposition candidates. The first — Moustapha Niasse, a former vice president and now one of Wade’s more important opponents — was waving from his motorcade as it headed to visit one of the local mosques, on Wednesday. Then yesterday, Djibril Ngom, a much less well-known candidate, held a rally literally right under my office window the very next day.
I chuckled when I saw that about 90% of the 200 or so supporters present were bussed-in. A fair proportion of the attendees at your average Canadian political rally are also bussed-in. In some respects, it appears, politics is just about the same everywhere. . .