Presidential elections were held in Senegal on February 26 and March 25, 2012. The Senegalese head of state is elected for a seven year term and is eligible for reelection once. Senegal, open to the Atlantic and often described as being at the crossroads of Arab north Africa and l’Afrique noire (black Africa), has been something of a mild success story compared to its West African neighbors. It is noted for its political stability and moderation, and the lack of a single coup d’etat.
Its elections have been free if not always entirely fair, and have once in the past (2000) resulted in the peaceful transfer of power. Between its independence from France in 1960 until 2000, Senegalese politics were dominated by the Socialist Party (PS) of Léopold Sédar Senghor, the famous poet who served as the country’s president between 1960 and 1980 and then by Abdou Diouf, the current secretary-general of La Francophonie, between 1981 and 2000. Sédar Senghor, a non-Marxist socialist, cultivated close ties with France and allowed for a gradual liberalization of politics and the economy, a policy which was followed by Abdou Diouf. Hit hard by an economic crisis, agricultural decline and a big debt load, Diouf was defeated in 2000 by the old rival of the PS, Abdoulaye Wade of the liberal Democratic Party (PDS).
Wade’s election in 2000 (his fifth candidacy in presidential elections), boosted by the support of Moustapha Niasse, third in the first round, led to a wave of hope and optimism for political change in the country. As happens so often in such cases, the results did not match the hopes. Wade’s style became increasingly autocratic, leading his opponents to criticize him as authoritarian, power-hungry and a megalomaniac. Opponents decried an increase in arbitrary arrests, nepotism, corruption and limits on press freedoms and civil liberties. His government was marked by political instability, as Wade tended to sideline his old allies, including Prime Minister Idrissa Seck (his 2000 campaign manager, PM between 2002 and 2004), who were too ambitious for his likings. The Sufi Mouride brotherhood, politically and economically powerful in Senegal through the alliance of the state with the mouride elders, the marabouts, grew even more influential under Wade, the first mouride president, who cozied up to them. Yet, the economy was not doing too bad despite debt and unemployment problems, and there was still hope or at least optimism for Wade’s big public works projects. In a shock to all his rivals, he was handily reelected with 56% in 2007, in a general free election.
In 2007, there was an opinion widely held amongst Senegalese that Wade, “le vieux“, deserved a second (and, it was thought and promised, a final) term in office given that his two predecessors had served for 20 years. Wade gave the paternalistic image of an old grandfather, and his populist style was a break from Senghor’s intellectual elitism and Diouf’s technocratic style. In 2007, he promised that “the best is yet to come”, as if he tried to maintain the hopes of change (sopi) and reform which his first election in 2000 had bred. However, in his second term, Wade became increasingly power-hungry and megalomaniac. He tried to favour his corrupt and Machiavellian son’s political career, first by toying around with the idea of creating an American-style presidential ticket with a running-mate and then by supporting his son’s unsuccessful candidacy for mayor of Dakar in 2009. He commissioned a huge and costly Stalinist-like monument (the African Renaissance Monument) in Dakar and then tried to get personal profits out of tourist visits to ‘his’ statue, built by the North Koreans. In 2011, there were riots in the country because of inflation and the rising cost of living, which compelled Wade to withdraw his plans for electoral reform including the running-mate idea.
Wade started making public his interest in running for a third-term in 2009. In 2012, the courts agreed with him and allowed him to run for a third-term by saying that he won his first term prior to the current constitution which was adopted in 2001. Like in 2007, a lot of Wade’s top rivals were some of his former allies. Idrissa Seck, his former PM who was then thrown in jail on shaky accusations in 2005, had placed a distant second in 2007 with 15%. He ran again this year, perhaps hoping to catch on to his mini-success in 2007 where he had gotten himself a profile as Wade’s potential successor. Ousmane Tanor Dieng, the leader of the formerly dominant PS, ran again this year after placing third in 2007 with only 13.6%. Moustapha Niasse, an old PS dissident whose support had been key for Wade in 2000 (and later got him the office of Prime Minister, until his inevitable falling-out with Wade), ran for a third time but in 2007 he had won a very disappointing 5.9%. The only top contender who had not run in 2007 was Macky Sall, a former ally of Wade who was Prime Minister between 2004 and 2007. He was thrown out of the PDS and the president’s inner circle after he tried, in 2008 as president of the National Assembly, to get Wade’s son to testify to parliament in a corruption case. Seen as an uncharismatic but hard-working and competent politician, Sall founded his own party after his exclusion from the PDS. Popular local singer Youssou N’Dour was banned from running.
Turnout was 51.6% in the first round, and 55% in the runoff.
Abdoulaye Wade (PDS) 34.81%
Macky Sall (APR) 26.58%
Moustapha Niasse (AFP) 13.2%
Ousmane Tanor Dieng (PS) 11.3%
Idrissa Seck (Rewmi) 7.86%
9 others 6.25%
Macky Sall (APR) 65.80%
Abdoulaye Wade (PDS) 34.20%
In the first round, Wade’s performance was rather weak, taking only 34.8% of the vote. In a lot of African countries with similarly free elections featuring a controversial incumbent, said incumbent has very little if any additional appeal to voters who did not vote for him in the first round. This was what happened to Diouf in 2000: he won the first round with 41%, but his result in the runoff was only marginally better by 0.2%. All other voters backed Wade, then the opposition candidate.
All of the other main candidates in this case were opposition candidates whose voters were anti-Wade, and all opposition candidates who did not qualify for the runoff endorsed Sall, although they seem to be united only on restoring the five-year term and upholding the two-term rule. Fairly obviously, they did not hold ‘vote reserves’ for Wade and unless Wade was to resort to massive fraud, Wade was in a very weak position ahead of the runoff. Wade did not resort to fraud, fairly honourably, and quickly conceded defeat to Sall who benefited from increased turnout from opposition supporters and the support of all those who had backed the other opposition candidates. Wade polled more raw votes in the runoff, but won a smaller percentage which was quasi-identical to his first round result. Sall won 65.8% against 34.2% for Wade, a much wider margin than Wade’s election against Diouf in 2000.
Wade won most of the country’s department in the first round, performing stronger in the non-Wolof populated regions of eastern Senegal (which is largely Peul) and especially the troubled Casamance region, parts of which are predominantly Diola and Christian. Macky Sall had strong support in his native region and political home base in Fatick but also in Dakar and some parts of Peul country (of the toucouleur group, along the Senegal River). Niasse was triumphant in his native department of Nioro du Rip, as well as a neighboring department. The PS’ Ousmane Dieng did not find much support in some of the PS’ historic bases in Peul eastern Senegal, and was only successful in his native department of M’Bour. Idrissa Seck, like in 2007, was successful in his hometown of Thiès where he is mayor.
In the runoff, Wade won only twelve departments. He received, as in 2007, strong support from his native region of Kébémer, a predominantly Wolof area in Senegal’s agricultural bassin arachidier, but also in neighboring Mbacké department which includes Touba, the centre of the mourid brotherhood to which Wade has been very close to politically. On the other hand, it seems as if Kaolack and Tivaouane, the centre of the other main Muslim brotherhood in Senegal, the tijāniyyah brotherhood, were less favourable to the incumbent. Macky Sall found strong support in Dakar and its low-income hinterland, taking over 70%, but also in his native Fatick region and the homebases of his first round allies; Seck (Thiès), Niasse (Nioro du Rip) and Dieng (M’Bour). Sall’s support does not reveal any clear ethnic divisions. He did well in Serer country, where he hails from, but also performed well in parts of Peul country (toucouleur) and Wolof country. The Wolof bassin arachidier was split between a north favourable to Wade and southern regions which were fairly favourable to Macky Sall. However, it does appear that Wade’s sole strong base was with the Mandingues and Malinkés which populate southeastern Senegal (Kédougou) and Upper Casamance. The predominantly Christian and Diola regions of Lower Casamance (Ziguinchor) backed Wade in the first round by a fairly strong margin but went for Sall by a narrower margin in the runoff.