Senegal’s 85-year-old incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade waited Friday for a ruling on whether he can seek a controversial third term, amid fears of violence as opposition parties planned to demonstrate despite a government ban.
AFP – Senegal’s main opposition parties plan to protest Friday against President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid to run for a third term, defying a government ban on demonstrations and stoking fears of violence.
«The protest will take place tomorrow morning at the Place de l’Obelisque,» in Dakar, Alioune Tine, spokesman for the June 23 Movement of parties and civil society groups opposing Wade’s candidature, said Thursday.
The demonstration will be staged as the country’s Constitutional Council is due to rule whether Wade, 85, can stand again for the presidency on February 26, as he insisted Thursday he had a perfect right to do.
Some 20 presidential candidates, including Grammy-award winning singer Youssou Ndour, were expected to have submitted their candidacies to the Constitutional Council for the election by Thursday night.
The five-judge body which has the final say on constitutional matters will unveil the list of approved contenders on Friday in what rights group Amnesty International has warned is «the first moment of truth» in a tense electoral period.
Wade was first elected in 2000 for a seven-year mandate, and re-elected in 2007 under a new constitution for a five-year mandate. In 2008 the constitution was changed again to allow for two seven-year terms from 2012.
«Everybody knows the law is not retroactive,» he said in an interview published Thursday on news website Dakaractu.
«I wrote the constitution. Alone. Nobody knows it better than me,» he said, adding, «I can even legally stand again in 2019.»
Wade dismissed fears of violence, saying the opposition was «a broken record» which made empty threats.
On criticism that he should not be seeking a third term, especially at his age, he said: «I still feel physically and intellectually able to serve my people.
«I cannot stop in midstream … I need three years to complete some major projects that will turn Senegal into an emerging country.»
Analysts and rights groups have warned of a repetition of the violent riots in June last year and clashes between rival parties in December which left one person dead.
Paul Melly, Associate Fellow of the Africa Programme at the London think-tank Chatham House, said, «There is a widespread expectation that the Constitutional Council will in fact give the green light» to Wade.
Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom on Tuesday announced a five-day ban from Thursday on all protests to prevent any violence over the council decision and «preserve peace and serenity».
But the June 23 Movement (M23) decried the move as a «violation of civil liberties» and called on the nation Wednesday to join an «active resistance» against the ban.
Former colonial power France urged Senegal Thursday to ensure the right to free speech and assembly, saying, «The will of the Senegalese people must be respected.»
«We hope that, in conformity with Senegal’s democratic traditions, the electoral campaign and the election will take place in a calm atmosphere and in a transparent manner,» foreign ministry deputy spokesman Romain Nadal said in Paris.
«It is up to everyone to prove their responsibility. The future of Senegal is at stake in these elections.»
Amnesty International’s west Africa researcher Salvatore Sagues said: «In this tense pre-election period where lawful political debate should be held freely, the authorities’ decision to prohibit public gatherings is all the more worrying.
«Senegal is at a crossroads and the potential for destabilisation is huge. It is crucial for the future of the country that February’s election is free of human rights violations.»
US deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, William Fitzgerald, said Monday that Wade’s bid to stay in office was «regrettable» and he should retire «to protect and support a good democratic transition in Senegal in calm and security».
Senegal has long been seen as a good example of democracy in Africa, with previous leaders Leopold Sedar Senghor and Abdou Diouf peacefully handing over power, although both served several terms under a previous constitution.
Wade has grown increasingly unpopular as he attempts to cling to power, with his regime facing corruption and financial scandals, while he has been accused of trying to groom his son Karim to fill his shoes.
Among the main contenders in the polls are three of Wade’s former prime ministers — Moustapha Niasse, Idrissa Seck and Macky Sall.
Also in the race is Ousmane Tanor Dieng, leader of the Socialist Party.
The most famous name in the running is Youssou Ndour, who has emerged as a fierce critic of Wade and announced earlier this month he had given up music for politics.