Inside Africa

Sall Confident Of Re-Election As Senegal Votes

7 minutes ago | Senegal Sall Confident Of Re-Election As Senegal Votes By Anne-Sophie FAIVRE LE CADRE, Selim SAHEB ETTABA Polling stations opened at 0800 GMT and were to close 10 hours later. By Carmen Abd Ali (AFP)

Senegal was voting in a presidential poll on Sunday with Macky Sally confident of being reelected after his main challengers were banned from running.

Sunday's vote pits Sall against four lesser-known candidates who have campaigned hard against his plans for a second term.

But with his two key rivals sidelined over graft convictions — popular former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, son of the previous president — Sall looked set to cruise to victory in the first-round vote.

Voting opened at 0800 GMT and was to close 10 hours later, with large queues forming outside a polling station in Fatick, Sall's hometown, where the 56-year-old cast his vote, an AFP correspondent said.

Other large queues were visible in Thies, Senegal's third city.

"At the end of this day, the Senegalese people alone will be the winner. And the president chosen will equally have to be president of all Senegalese," Sall said after voting.

Despite his expansive remarks, some voters were on edge.

Some 6.7 million people were registered to vote in Senegal's election. By Carmen Abd Ali (AFP) Some 6.7 million people were registered to vote in Senegal's election. By Carmen Abd Ali (AFP)

"I want to get home as soon as possible, I'm frightened there will be violence on election day," said 25-year-old voter Fatoumata Sall.

"I hope this election goes off peacefully and that tomorrow everyone will be going about their business — that will mean a peaceful vote," said accountant Lamine Diatta, who voted in Dakar.

A geologist by training, Sall took over as president in 2012 after beating his former mentor Abdoulaye Wade, and this time, he has campaigned for a second term championing his "Emerging Senegal" infrastructure project to boost economic growth.

"Victory in the first round is indisputable," Sall told a recent Dakar campaign rally.

A smaller lineup

Often held up as a model of stability in Africa, Senegal has enjoyed strong growth. The Muslim-majority country has largely escaped the jihadist attacks that destabilised neighbours such as Mali.

Sall has made transport infrastructure a priority. But basic services, healthcare and education often remain inadequate, sometimes triggering strikes and protests.

The other four candidates have campaigned hard against his plans for a second phase of his project, which critics see as a potential debt burden.

A woman votes at a polling station in Thies, Senegal's third city, where large queues of people could be seen queuing to cast their ballots. By MICHELE CATTANI (AFP) A woman votes at a polling station in Thies, Senegal's third city, where large queues of people could be seen queuing to cast their ballots. By MICHELE CATTANI (AFP)

Among those contesting the race are Idrissa Seck, a one-time prime minister, former foreign minister Madicke Niang, Issa Sall of the Unity and Assembly Party (PUR) and taxman-turned-MP Ousman Sonko.

The five-horse race leaves voters with a limited choice compared to 2012 when 14 candidates vied for the top post.

Preliminary results are due out after polling closes at 1800 GMT, with official results due out a day or two later.

Senegal has a population of 16 million but only 6.7 million were registered to vote in this West African nation which gained independence from France in 1960.

'Unfair trials'

Senegal's presidential candidates including incumbent Sall. By Vincent LEFAI (AFP) Senegal's presidential candidates including incumbent Sall. By Vincent LEFAI (AFP)

In order to avoid a second-round runoff, a candidate must get more than 50 percent of the vote.

Failing that, a second round is provisionally scheduled for March 24.

A new system approved by parliament last year, required candidates demonstrate support from a minimum number of citizens and regions.

Once the regulations went into force, only seven candidates made the cut, but two of them — Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade — were then disqualified.

Both men claim their convictions were engineered to bar them from the race.

Their supporters staged a number of protests and last year, Amnesty International issued a report highlighting the "unfair trials" of senior opposition figures, flagging a lack of "lack of (judicial) independence" in the case against Khalifa Sall.

Missing ink

EU observers said that in a EU observers said that in a "significant" number of cases, they had noted a shortage of indelible ink used to stain voters' fingers and prevent repeat voting. By Carmen Abd Ali (AFP)

Senegal has known two peaceful power transfers in 2000 and 2012 and has never experienced any coups. But election campaigns are often marred by charges of corruption, disinformation and sometimes violence.

Two people died during recent clashes between supporters of rival parties in Tambacounda, the largest city in eastern Senegal.

For polling day, some 8,000 police were deployed throughout urban areas alongside an unspecified number of civilian security staff, officials said.

And around 5,000 observers — including some from the European Union — were monitoring proceedings, the interior ministry said.

EU delegation head Elena Valenciano said 60 percent of polling stations visited by her group had opened on time with the others registering a slight delay.

But she said that that in a "significant number of cases" they had seen a shortage of indelible ink used to stain voters' fingers to guarantee against repeated voting.

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