Voting began today in Senegal’s presidential election, with incumbent Abdoulaye Wade vying for a third term after violent protests that threaten to damage the second-biggest economy in West Africa’s currency union.
The 85-year-old leader, Africa’s oldest after Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, faces 13 candidates following a Jan. 27 ruling by the Constitutional Court that term limits don’t apply to him. Voting started at 8 a.m. Dakar time and ends at 6 p.m., according to the country’s electoral commission, which has until March 2 to hand results to the court. A second round will be held next month if no one wins 50 percent.
Senegal’s five decades of transition from a French colony to a democratic state of 13.8 million people earned it plaudits and aid from the U.S., Europe and the World Bank. Over the past year, human-rights activists, opposition politicians and protesters have been beaten and jailed and demonstrations have been banned, according to U.K.-based Amnesty International.
Wade “is the most likely victor in a second round run-off,” said Jonathan Hyman, Africa analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. “With his prospective third term given legal legitimacy, he has no need to heed vocal domestic and international pressure to step aside.”
Demonstrations against Wade’s bid to extend his 12 years in power have left at least nine people dead and dozens injured since the court decision. Wade argued a change to the constitution that limited presidential tenures to two didn’t apply because it was enacted after he came to office.
The situation is “potentially volatile and maybe international investors seem to be of a similar view as they tend to be underweight” on Senegal’s $500 million Eurobonds, said Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at London-based investment bank Exotix Ltd. Still, the yield on the debt due in 2021 has fallen to the lowest since Nov. 14, retreating 7.4 basis points to 8.693 percent late on Feb. 24, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
That is in step with other African bonds. Ghana’s $750 million debt due in 2017 traded at 6.146 percent, the lowest since Sept. 13, while Nigeria’s $500 million notes due 2021 declined to 5.741 percent, the lowest since Aug. 4.
Growth, forecast at 4.5 percent this year by the International Monetary Fund, may slow, Hyman said in an emailed response to questions. “If events somehow turn into a full-scale revolution, then investment would dry up, there would be supply shocks and the political scene would become uncertain,” he said.
The electoral-affairs ministry is led by a member of Wade’s ruling Parti Democratique Senegalaise. The vote results are approved by the same court that endorsed Wade’s candidacy and it is headed by a supporter of Wade, according to James Clinton Francis, a sub-Saharan Africa researcher with Eurasia Group Ltd.
“Wade’s incumbency gives him a considerable advantage in terms of access to resources and influence over the electoral process,” said Anna Osborne, senior analyst at Bath, U.K.-based Maplecroft, a risk-analysis company. “This includes his hold over the Constitutional Court in the event of an opposition appeal,” she said in an e-mailed response to questions Feb. 14.
The president also holds sway over religious leaders known as marabouts, according to his spokesman, Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye. “The spiritual powers and the governing powers always go together,” Ndiaye said by phone Feb. 6.
Opposition groups have called on Wade to withdraw from the race. “We believe that if he runs as a candidate, he will publish results favorable to himself,” El Hadji Diouf, spokesman for candidate Idrissa Seck’s Rewmi party, said by phone Feb. 20.
Former prime ministers Seck and Macky Sall are likely to face Wade in a runoff, said Abdou Fall, Senegal analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.
Senegal became independent from France in 1960 and is the only country in mainland West Africa never to have experienced a military coup. Wade defeated incumbent Abdou Diouf, who had ruled Senegal for 19 years, in elections in 2000.
Diouf succeeded the country’s first president, Leopold Senghor, a poet who served in France’s parliament before independence. He was a founder of the so-called negritude literary and ideological movement that rejected colonialism and promoted the self-affirmation of blacks and Africans.
Wade’s son, Karim, was appointed minister for energy, international cooperation, regional development, air transport and infrastructure following his defeat in 2009 in a race for mayor of Dakar. He also oversaw Senegal’s hosting of the 2008 Organization of the Islamic Conference, which came under question by politicians including Sall, 50.
“I came here today to do my duty as a citizen,” Assane Samb, 37, a taxi driver, said in Dakar.
“It’s going well for the moment, it’s well organised here,” Mamadou Diakhate, 20, a bricklayer, said in Dakar. “I think that Wade will win today.”
In the West African union’s biggest economy, Ivory Coast, a disputed presidential election in November 2010 led to five months of violent clashes and an economic contraction of 5.8 percent, according to the IMF. The country also defaulted on its $2.3 billion Eurobonds after missing a coupon payment.
“There will be post-electoral violence and instability whatever the results, but it won’t last for a long time,” Fall, at the Institute for Security Studies, said by phone on Feb. 16.
“The religious leaders in Touba and Tivaouane will call for calm,” he said, referring to the country’s two main religious cities. “Whatever the outcome, Wade will still be in power.”
Alassane Ouattara, who won the Ivorian vote, was supported by a rebel movement in the country’s north that had its roots in a 2002 army mutiny. Senegal doesn’t have a similar militia and is likely to adhere to any calls for peace by influential religious leaders in a country where 94 percent of the population practices Islam, Culverhouse said.
“I don’t think people are expecting a Cote d’Ivoire situation and we’ve never seen that before in Senegal’s independence history,” he said by phone Feb. 20. “But the opposition are now more vocal and seemingly against this family dynasty than previous, so maybe we’re in uncharted territory.”