Preview: Senegalese to vote for president in Sunday polls
By Tia Goldenberg Feb 22, 2007, 12:43 GMT
Nairobi - Senegalese head to the polls on Sunday to vote in presidential elections in a country that has been lauded as Africa's democratic success story.
The West African nation is the only one in the region that has never undergone a coup d'etat, with successive leaders handing over power peacefully. The courts are largely independent and the Senegalese press is robust and free.
But despite all these qualities that are so rare on the continent, President Abdoulaye Wade has been charged with not fulfilling promises that made him leader in 2000, and this could lead to his demise.
Elected on a platform dubbed 'Sopi,' meaning change, Wade promised to create jobs and revamp the impoverished country's education system. But since his swearing in, hordes of disaffected and disillusioned youth show little has changed.
As a result, many of the illegal migrants overwhelming Europe are young Senegalese fleeing the economic hardship of their home country. Most are either arrested upon their arrival or die on the perilous journey.
But despite the dangers of heading north, Senegalese continue out of desperation to flock to Europe in droves.
The country has seen some economic growth in the past 10 years, with GDP growth rates averaging 5.1 per cent between 1995 and 2004, but not enough to stem the endemic poverty and unemployment the country still faces.
Nearly 60 per cent of the population lives under the poverty line and unemployment is estimated at over 40 per cent. Half of all Senegalese are under 18 years of age.
Each presidential candidate is vowing to change this phenomenon.
During this election campaign, as Wade's seven-year term leading the Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS) comes to a close, the octogenarian is again running on a vow to bring change to the country.
His first term ended 40 years of socialist rule and he implemented several liberalization reforms that garnered him praise from European leaders, with Germany calling Senegal a 'shining example' for Africa.
But Wade's inability to fulfil promises made in 2000 to bring prosperity to the country is what his opponents are using against him in the campaign, which began earlier this month and is set to wrap up on Friday.
Senegalese can choose to re-elect him or start afresh with one of the 14 other presidential hopefuls vying for power of the Muslim state of nearly 11 million.
Wade's closest contender is Ousmane Tanor Dieng, who heads the Socialist Party that ruled Senegal since independence from France in 1960.
Like other candidates, Dieng has promised to resolve the chronic youth unemployment and revitalize the economy.
Idrissa Seck, a former prime minister under Wade who was sacked in 2004 and then thrown in jail for embezzlement charges, is also running for president.
With so many candidates contending for the top spot, the vote could be split, potentially bringing a run-off election slated for March 18.
Some 4.9 million Senegalese are set to vote on Sunday, with parliamentary elections meant to take place in June.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur