Senegal Opposition Candidate Closing In On Victory, Ruling Camp Contests

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Senegal’s anti-establishment candidate, appeared to be closing in on victory early Monday in a presidential election that follows several years of upheaval and a political crisis, while the ruling coalition declared a second round vote was certain.

Whoever wins will be charged with navigating Senegal, regarded as a beacon of democracy in coup-torn West Africa, out of its current predicament and managing money from oil and gas reserves that are about to begin production.

The poll’s conclusion was uncertain, with official results not expected until the end of the week, and a first-round win requiring an absolute majority.

Opposition figure Faye promised voters substantial transformation and a presidential program of left-wing pan-Africanism.

He appeared clearly ahead of the governing coalition’s former prime minister, Amadou Ba, according to interim results from individual polling stations broadcast by local media and on social networks.

At least seven presidential candidates congratulated Faye based on preliminary results from the continuing vote count.

“Congratulations to Bassirou Diomaye Faye on his unquestionable victory,” Anta Babacar Ngom, the lone female contender, wrote on X (previously Twitter).

Dethie Fall complimented Faye “on his fine victory, clearly achieved in view of the very strong trends that are emerging”.

Faye, 44, and Ba, 62, both former tax inspectors, emerged as front-runners in a crowded field of 17 contenders.

Hundreds of people gathered late Sunday at Faye’s campaign headquarters in Dakar, singing and dancing to the sounds of klaxons and drums.

Young people on motorcycles paraded through the streets, yelling “to the (presidential) palace”.

The mood was more somber among the few dozen supporters at Ba’s headquarters.

However, Ba’s campaign management stated that it was “certain to be, in the worst-case scenario, in a second-round” according to its analysts.

It also accused Faye’s camp of “manipulation”.

“It is not inevitable that Senegal will slide into a populist adventure,” the statement added.


‘Choice for the change’ 

A victory for the opposition’s Faye could herald a systemic overhaul in Senegal.

The anti-establishment figure has pledged to restore national “sovereignty,” fight corruption and distribute wealth more equitably.

He has also promised to renegotiate mining, gas and oil contracts signed with foreign companies, with Senegal due to start hydrocarbon production later this year.

“I remain confident about the choice for the change that I am able to embody better than any other candidate,” Faye said as he voted earlier Sunday.

Ba meanwhile pitches himself as the continuity candidate for outgoing President Macky Sall.

Both contenders pitched themselves as the best candidate for young people in a county where half the population is under 20.

“I voted for Diomaye without thinking,” said Diaraaf Gaye, a 26-year-old shopkeeper, earlier in the day.

“It’s time for the country to start on a new footing with young people” in power.

‘Finally got there’

Senegal was scheduled to vote on February 25, but Sall’s 11th-hour postponement sparked the greatest political crisis in decades, killing four people.

7.3 million Senegalese were eligible to vote on Sunday.

Voters queued quietly outside polling locations, with many getting up early to pray before dawn before walking straight to the polls.

“We finally got there. May God be praised,” said Mita Diop, a 51-year-old trader. “Recent times haven’t been easy for Senegal which has experienced several upheavals.”

Opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko — who was barred from standing due to a defamation conviction — said young people had “massively” turned out to vote.

“We are convinced that at the end of this day the victory will be dazzling,” Sonko said, referring to his deputy and endorsed candidate, Faye, as he voted in his southern stronghold of Ziguinchor.

Hundreds of observers from civil society, the African Union, the ECOWAS regional group, and the European Union were in attendance.

Malin Bjork, the director of the EU delegation, stated that voting took place “calmly, efficiently, and (in a) very orderly manner”.

After weeks of confusion, Senegal’s top constitutional tribunal overruled Sall’s request to postpone the vote until December and pushed him to move it to March 24, resulting in a rushed campaign that overlapped with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Ba, Sall’s hand-picked successor, would inherit his legacy, which includes mass arrests, enduring poverty, 20% unemployment, and thousands of migrants embarking on the treacherous journey to Europe each year.

Since 2021, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds jailed as a result of violence sparked in part by a standoff between firebrand Sonko and the authorities.

Leave a Reply