Yesterday, Senegalese went to the polls for the first round of the contentious presidential election in which the incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade, is seeking a third term in spite of a two-term constitutional limit.

Media reports suggest that, in spite of recent violence, tensions seem not to have boiled over on election day, while an estimated 60% of voters went to the polls. As results began coming in, the race between Wade and the thirteen opposition candidates was tight, and none of them appear to have won a majority (50%) of the vote that would make a second round unnecessary.

According to Micky Sall, the former prime minister who emerged as the most serious contender for the presidency in yesterday’s vote, voters in the capital and other cities across the country seem to have thrown their support behind him and various opposition candidates, while people in more rural areas preferred Wade. This is not too surprising. Most of the mobilization against Wade’s third term has taken place in urban areas, where a critical mass of young people live and work, having left behind their parents and ancestors’ rural lives. Discontent with employment and educational opportunities, the rising cost of living and a regime gripping to power in plain view are among the reasons for which urban youth want change. An “anyone but Wade” coalition could emerge between the two rounds, according to observers. Whether this coalition is strong enough to vote Wade out of power remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the mediation by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has taken an interesting turn. Obasanjo has recommended that, should Wade win the election, he should be allowed to serve a shortened, 2-year term while fresh elections are organized. While this compromise has yet to be accepted by Wade or the opposition, it shows just how deeply entrenched Wade’s power is. Wade’s ability to run for a third term is only contingent upon the electoral commission’s eminently political decision to allow him to do so. If in the course of a free and fair election the Senegalese vote for a third term for Wade, a compromise will be necessary. ECOWAS and the AU seem to be primarily concerned with keeping the peace in Senegal, rather than helping protect its democratic institutions.

Abdoulaye Wade’s confidence in his ability to get a mandate for a third term from Senegalese has been rather unshakable, in spite of nearly daily protests and unrest. Indeed, the opposition will have to solve the problem of lack of unity if Wade is to be defeated. Keep watching this space for further updates and analysis.

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