Senegal candidates wrap up campaigns before presidential vote

Five candidates are running for the country’s top office, with incumbent Macky Sall favoured to win the contest.

Supporters of Senegalese President Macky Sall
Supporters of Senegalese President Macky Sall cheer as he speaks at a rally in Dakar on Sunday [Jane Hahn/AP Photo]

Dakar, Senegal – Senegal’s presidential candidates are wrapping up their election campaigns on Friday, as rights groups call on authorities to make sure the vote is held in a climate free of violence and intimidation.

More than six million Senegalese citizens have registered to take part in Sunday’s poll, the first since the West African country cut the presidential term from seven years to five in 2016.

Five candidates are in the running for the country’s top office with incumbent President Macky Sall seeking a second and final term in office.

Sall, 57, is favourite to win the poll after two of the country’s most well-known opposition leaders were barred from contesting the election.

Former mayor of the capital Dakar Khalifa Sall – who is not related to President Sall – is serving a five-year jail term on corruption charges.

Meanwhile, Karim Wade – son of the country’s former leader Abdoulaye Wade – went into exile in Qatar in 2017 after serving half of a six-year jail term on corruption charges.

Both deny the charges, which they say are politically motivated.

Macky Sall, who took office in 2012, is expected to address his supporters late Friday at the national football stadium in Dakar.

‘France’s candidate’

“He has done better than [former president] Abdoulaye Wade,” Daouda Ngom, a security guard, told Al Jazeera in front of Sall’s party headquarters in the Mermoz neighbourhood of the city.

“During his seven years, he has done better than 12 years of Wade,” he continued.

“He has achieved many things, we have many more schools, universities, and also achievements in infrastructure.” 

However, opposition supporters do not share that assessment of the president’s performance in office.

On the other side of the city in the Sacre Coeur neighbourhood, critics said the president has not done much except further the interests of France, the country’s former colonial ruler.

“Macky Sall has no ability to change our lives,” said Mamadou Goumbada, a retired teacher.

“He has sold the country’s wealth to French companies. He is France’s candidate. Idrissa Seck will never do that,” The 70-year-old opposition supporter told Al Jazeera, referring to the country’s former prime minister, who is challenging Sall for the presidency.

The campaign period has been relatively trouble-free but rights group Amnesty International said at least two people have been killed since campaigning started on February 2.

“While authorities should protect and promote human rights in the context of elections, particularly the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, all candidates should also remind their supporters to refrain from using violence in any circumstance,” Francois Patuel, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher, said on Thursday.

Polling centres will open at 8am local time (08:00 GMT) and close at 6pm local (18:00 GMT).

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, a runoff will be held on March 24.

Senegal, a country of more than 15 million people, is one of the most stable democracies in Africa and has had three largely peaceful transfers of power since independence from France in 1960.

Source: Al Jazeera