Wade already had sought a third term in office even though he himself had revised the constitution to impose a two-term maximum, and some feared he would not step aside if opposition candidate Macky Sall won Sunday's vote. However, state television reported only several hours after the polls closed that Wade had congratulated Sall, his one-time protege.
President Abdoulaye Wade
"The results coming in indicated that Mr. Macky Sall had won. As I had always promised, I called him Sunday night to congratulate him," Wade said in a statement that was released to reporters early Monday. Even before Wade conceded, Sall's supporters began celebrating in the streets of the capital, singing and marching through downtown Dakar. Some even danced on the roofs of moving vehicles, and one man did a cartwheel amid the traffic near the Place de l'Independance.
Sociologist Hadiya Tandian said that Wade's concession washes away the wounds of a violent election season, which left at least six people dead and tarnished the country's reputation.
"This is a great victory for Senegal — it shows the maturity of our democracy," Tandian said. "It shows that the Senegalese believe in their voter IDs, that a voter card can change something, can make a difference. It shows that our long democratic heritage continues to live in us day by day." Wade's concession further solidifies Senegal's reputation as a mature democracy in a region better known for strongman rule and power grabs. In neighboring Mali, the president of a decade was ousted last week in a coup led by mutinous soldiers not long before he was due to step down anyway.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised the peaceful election in Senegal, which won independence from France in 1960.
Opposition candidate Macky Sall
"It's very good news for Africa, in general, and Senegal, in particular," Sarkozy said on France Info radio. "When you see what's happening in Mali, it's a reason for hope for all of Africa." At a midnight press conference at a Dakar hotel, Sall offered few details on the conversation he had with Wade earlier in the evening. Instead, he praised the voters and said he would be the president for all Senegalese.
"Tonight, a new era begins for Senegal," Sall told the hundreds of journalists and euphoric supporters who crammed into the venue to hear him speak.
Whereas most African countries began holding elections post-independence in the 1960s, the Senegalese first cast their ballots 164 years ago starting in 1848 when France gave its territory the right to elect a deputy to the French parliament.
Wade himself first took office in 2000 after his predecessor graciously conceded in a historic moment for Senegal. He easily won re-election in 2007, but has seen his popularity suffer amid soaring costs of living and unemployment. When he cast his ballot last month in the first round of balloting, some voters even booed him at the poll shouting: "Old man, get lost." His image also was tarnished after he began giving an increasing share of power to his son Karim, who was derisively called "the Minister of the Sky and the Earth" after he was handed control of multiple ministries including infrastructure and energy.
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 last month's election, protesters calling for Wade to step down hurled rocks at police in demonstrations that paralyzed the capital's economic heart.
In recent weeks, images of Wade on campaign posters had their eyes scratched out. And his convoy was hit by rocks in the final days of the runoff campaign.
Marieme Ousmane Wele, 55, said she had voted for Sall because the rising prices of basic goods have made her life increasingly difficult.
"I sell cereal made from corn but the price of corn has really gone up. Now, I don't have many customers and it's becoming difficult to feed my own family," she said, as men sat nearby on plastic lawn chairs in the sand listening to news about the election on portable radios.
Others, though, praised Wade for the economic progress made during his 12 years in power. At a polling station in the suburb of Grand Yoff, Raymonde Semou, 64, said Sunday she personally credited Wade with helping two of her six children find work.
"Before, I had to sell grilled peanuts to feed my family and it was very difficult for me," she said.
Now, her employed sons have bought land to build a house, and she adds there is now electricity in her hometown in Senegal's restive southern Casamance region.
Sall, 50, a former prime minister who ran Wade's last campaign in 2007, is a geologist by training who worked for years under Wade. The two, though, had a subsequent falling out and during the campaign Wade referred to Sall as an apprentice who had not yet taken in "the lessons of his mentor."
Most voters simply spoke of change rather than Sall's credentials when explaining whom they supported at the polls on Sunday.
Dr. Johny Assane said he voted for Wade in 2000 but has since become disillusioned. While he says he is financially secure, he has seen how others have failed to benefit from Wade's leadership. "The situation of my patients who come to get medicine in my office has really deteriorated," he said. "Everywhere there are children whose parents are finding it difficult to pay for their treatment and that shows me that the country is not working."
Associated Press writers Rukmini Callimachi and Tomas Faye contributed to this report.
Krista Larson can be reached at www.twitter.com/klarsonafrica.
Even though the Constitution sets a two-term limit for the president, Senegal’s Constitutional Council has ruled — based on a disputed legal interpretation — that Mr. Wade is eligible to run again. A close look at his time in office, however, suggests that granting him a third term would be terrible for democracy.
Mr. Wade was celebrated as a symbol of democracy in March 2000, when he was elected president, ending 40 years of rule by the Socialist Party. He had competed unsuccessfully for more than two decades, but this time the incumbent, Abdou Diouf, failed to gain a majority in the initial voting. That led to a runoff, which Mr. Wade won. Before Mr. Diouf, Senegal had known only one president — Léopold Sédar Senghor — since gaining independence from France in 1960.
In his first year in office, Mr. Wade bolstered his democratic credentials by calling for a new constitution, which voters approved in 2001. It set a two-term limit for the presidency. He also abolished a Senate that Mr. Diouf had created and that his Socialists had dominated. Little by little, however, enthusiasm for Mr. Wade was replaced by fear that he was turning toward authoritarianism — especially after his re-election in 2007, when opposition leaders accused him of electoral fraud. Legislative and municipal elections were repeatedly delayed. Corruption steadily increased.Now Mr. Wade seems to be replicating his predecessor’s undemocratic practices, perverting judicial and legislative institutions and restraining fundamental liberties.
According to Amnesty International, leaders of the opposition and civic groups, journalists and ordinary Senegalese have been intimidated, arrested, tortured and prosecuted. On Feb. 17, a presidential candidate, Cheikh Bamba Dièye, and the opposition leader Ibrahima Sène were detained on a day when a dozen others were wounded. Last month, the human rights activist Alioune Tine, who has led a movement to deny Mr. Wade a third term, was arrested; he was set free after two days of protests and international pressure. Over the years, other political leaders have been detained for longer periods, including the opposition leader Jean-Paul Dias and his son, Barthélémy Dias.
Mr. Wade has weakened democratic institutions that he helped set up and has recreated in an even less democratic form some institutions that were abolished early in his tenure. The Senate, for example, was re-established in 2007, but now the president appoints 65 of its 100 members, with only 35 elected. In the old Senate, three-quarters of the 60 members were elected. In seeking a third term, the president is widely believed to be preparing for his son, Karim, whom he named a key minister, to succeed him.
Finally, Mr. Wade controls the judicial system and the Council of State, decides on the careers of judges and appoints the Constitutional Council. Most decisions by these institutions have been in his favor, notably the council’s ruling that he could seek a third term. The council accepted his argument that the term limit did not apply to him because the new Constitution was not in effect when he was first elected in 2000.
Still, the decision violates that Constitution’s spirit. In a young electoral system, term limits are a guarantee of continuing democracy. Without them, a powerful president unconcerned about accountability can use patronage to control institutions like the legislature and courts, and through them rig the mechanisms of elections in his favor.
After the council’s decision — and in the face of continuing repression — opposition groups united and called for the protests that began in January.
The protesters are not alone. A statement from the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, called on Senegalese officials to honor “Senegal’s democratic traditions, which have laid the foundations for its long history of stability and social cohesion.” Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns has said that Mr. Wade’s candidacy presents risks to Senegal’s stability and democracy. And the International Federation for Human Rights has urged authorities to “immediately stop the ongoing repression.”
Abdoulaye Wade has a choice: Will he enter history by listening to citizens’ demands and the advice of friends in the international community? Or will he risk being remembered as the one responsible for Senegal’s reversal from an electoral democracy to a facade democracy or, worse, an authoritarianism that destabilizes the country?
Landry Signé is a fellow in the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University.