Senegal's President Wade fuels controversy

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Senegal's President Wade fuels controversy

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Pressure has been increasing to convince Abdulaye Wade not to run for president of Senegal for a third time. Many say the 85-year-old has no place on a ballot coming up late this February. Wade’s critics say a third term is not allowed in Senegal’s constitution and that if he ran again it could lead one of Africa’s most stable democracies into trouble.

Senegal’s most violent riots under Wade’s rule took place in June when he tried to reduce the proportion of votes needed to win an election to 25 percent to avoid a run-off.

The proposed constitutional changes — including efforts to create a post of vice president seen as a way to groom his son as his successor — were scrapped after violent clashes that left scores injured. The conflict between the ruling party and opposition in late December left one person dead.

During Wade’s government, civil rights have taken a battering, with journalists imprisoned and corruption allegations rising. Freedom of the press and other civil liberties have decreased.

The economy has suffered too. It is heavily agricultural. That sector employs seven out of every ten working Senegalese, but only five percent of the country’s land is arable and nearly half the population is unemployed; more than 43 percent live below the poverty line. The public debt is 22 percent of GDP and Senegal survives on foreign aid, which feeds 32 percent of all state spending.

Wade was first elected in 2000 with a two-term mandate, and re-elected in 2007, but since the length of presidential terms was changed while he was in office he argues that he should be allowed another term. Opposition parties and civil society fiercely disagree.

Wade’s son Karim entered politics in 2009, at municipal level. His experience is limited to winning solely in his own local constituency, but then he was handed the portfolios of four ministries, amid howls of nepotism.

Equally inexperienced in politics, the world-famous Senegalese music icon Youssou Ndour has announced his candidacy, along with many others.

Later this month, the Constitutional Council is expected to rule on Wade’s eligibility to run.

Also read: N’Dour speaks about Senegalese candidacy