Looking for a miracle: Senegal′s opposition faces uphill battle | Africa | DW | 24.02.2012
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Looking for a miracle: Senegal's opposition faces uphill battle

Five million Senegalese go to the polls on Sunday and President Abdoulaye Wade appears almost certain to be re-elected.

Police in riot gear stand by in Dakar

Riot police have become a familiar sight in Dakar

When Abdoulaye Wade became president in 2000, after years in opposition, the reception was generally positive. But today, many, including the musician Thiat, one of the founders of youth movement "Y'en a marre" ("That's enough"), describe the years under Wade as nothing less than a nightmare. Thiat called on Senegalese voters to stand up and resist a prolonged Wade presidency. "For 12 years, it's been nothing but failure. It's time for the Senegalese people to wake up," he said.

A serious looking President Abdoulaye Wade

President Abdoulaye has little to fear from the opposition

To be fair, Wade's rule has not been entirely negative. In some parts of the country, there have been noticeable improvements to the infrastructure. According to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the West African nation's economic data is good. What angers the "Y'en a marre" movement and a large section of civil society is Wade's renewed candidacy. It was Wade who limited the number of periods in office a president could serve to two. He then decided that because the decision was taken when he was already in office, it didn't apply to him, at least not until the end of his next presidency.

Rap singer Thiat

Rap singer Thiat says Senegalese voters must wake up

A blow for democracy

For Fadel Barro, also a member of "Y'en a marre", that violates the constitution. "What's happening here is a blow to democracy. If we allow Wade to go ahead with his renewed candidacy, that will set a precedent for others."

One of the charges against Abdoulaye Wade is that he wants to ensure that his son becomes his successor. Presidential spokesman Amadou Sall rejects that as unfounded. But it is a fact that, in 2011, Wade wanted to amend the constitution so that the president and vice-president could be elected simultaneously. The vice president could then be replaced at will and, should the president resign, would automatically replace him. The Senegalese were not impressed by such tactics and went out on to the street in large numbers.

Boycott backfired

Demonstrating was also the only way the opposition could object to the planned change to the constitution. Since they had boycotted the 2009 parliamentary elections, fearing they would be rigged, there are no opposition politicians in either the National Assembly or the Senate. The head of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Dakar, Werner Nowak, explains the consequences. "The opposition created obstacles for itself. It has no institutional channels through which it can express itself politically. The only way left is the street."

The presidential palace in Dakar

President Wade is hoping the presidential palace will continue to be his home

It was in the streets that the M23 movement was born, named after the day, 23 June, when opposition and civil society joined forces to protest against the planned constitutional amendment, despite government efforts to silence them. But many Senegalese have the impression that this mass turnout is all that the opposition has to offer. They are seen as divided and at odds. Moustapha Niasse, a former prime minister under Wade and now one of his challengers in Sunday's election, disagrees with this assessment. Senegal is a country in which diversity flourishes, he says and so "it would be better to speak of diversity within the opposition and not division."

Opposition lacks inspiration

But when asked about concrete political goals, Niasse also has little to say, apart from trotting out standard phrases such as wanting to fight corruption and improve the infrastructure. Mouhamadou Mbodj, Transparency International's representative in Dakar and head of the NGO "Forum Civil," accuses the opposition of failing to make use of the so-called National Sessions in 2008 and 2009. The aim was to draw up a list of political priorities. "I have not seen any program," Mouhamadou said. "Candidates Idrissa Seck and Macky Sall spoke but it was more like a declaration of faith than an election program."

So is the opposition without a chance? It's hard to say. Protests against President Wade have been largely restricted to the capital Dakar. But civil society representatives have vowed not to give in. Should Wade emerge as the victor, they say they will not let him rule, even if they have to demonstate for the next 25 years.

Author: Dirke Köpp /sh
Editor: Mark Caldwell / rm

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