AP - Presidential election results published late Wednesday dealt a humiliating blow to Senegal’s aging leader, who had boasted that he would win the race outright and instead will have to face his former protege in a runoff election next month.
President Abdoulaye Wade, whose decision to seek a third term at age 85 has infuriated many Senegalese, got 942,546 votes, or 34.82 percent. That’s far short of the 50 percent that he needed to win the contest outright, as he did five years ago when his campaign was run by his former Prime Minister Macky Sall.
This time, Wade will faceoff against Sall in the second round. Sall came in second with 719,369 votes, or 26.57 percent, according to the provisional results read by the head of the country’s appeals court, Demba Kandji.
In third and fourth place were two other members of Wade’s inner circle who fell out with him, including ex-prime ministers Moustapha Niasse, with 357,347 votes, or 13.2 percent, and Idrissa Seck with 212,848, or 7.86 percent.
The results are an embarrassing defeat for Wade, who experts said needed to win on the first round to hold on to power. On the first round he was facing 13 opponents, and the opposition vote was split. His chances are far slimmer in a runoff election, when the opposition will likely be united behind Sall.
Wade’s waning popularity was evident when he went to vote on Sunday. Instead of the usual cheers, the leader was loudly booed and heckled by hundreds of opposition supporters. The contest became less about the issues, which were rarely discussed, and all about saying no to Wade’s bid for a third term, a move that many considered to be a violation of the constitution, which was revised after Wade came to office to impose a two-term limit.
“On Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, you clearly and with a great majority made your voice heard to put an end to the regime of the sitting president,” Sall said at a press conference Wednesday. “Two out of every three Senegalese chose to open a new page of our history. ... Senegal is at a crossroad.”
The former premier outlined the reforms that he hoped to pursue if he wins the March runoff, whose date has not yet been announced. The results issued Wednesday are considered provisional until all appeals have been addressed.
Supporters erupted in cheers when Sall, in a sharp sable-gray suit and burgundy tie, said that he planned to change the constitution to reduce the presidential term from seven to five years.
For most of Senegal’s post-independence history, the presidential term was seven years long. When Wade was elected in 2000, he reduced it to five. Then he had a change of heart and changed the constitution back in 2008 to increase it back to seven years.
“I will propose a reform of the constitution which will among other things reduce the length of the term of the president of the republic to five years _ renewable a single time. And I am here to say that I will apply this reform to myself. I am committing myself to carrying out a term of five years,” Sall said.
“And this reform which will limit the number of terms to two and the duration of the term to five years will not be something that can ever be modified again. ... The president is not a king. He is a man who for a limited time is given the right to govern.”
Wade has been in power for 12 years. He spent 25 years in the opposition fighting to loosen the grip of the former socialist party, which ruled this former French colony for 40 years since independence in 1960.
Wade’s reputation took a nosedive when he announced last year that he planned to run for a third term. For weeks leading up to Sunday’s election, police clashed with protesters calling for Wade to step aside.