Legal opinion is mounting against Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s plans to run in 2012 for a third term in office, months before a legal body will rule on whether his bid, which has already sparked street protests, is valid or not.
One of the authors of Senegal’s current constitution this week broke years of silence on the issue, saying Wade’s plans would be illegal, adding pressure on the octogenarian leader, who is coming to the end of his second term in power.
Senegal’s constitution allows presidents to only serve two terms but Wade’s camp argues changes made in 2001 meant his first term, from 2000-7, did not count, Reuters reports.
Scrutiny is also turning to the Constitutional Council, which must rule on Wade’s candidacy for the February election but critics fear will not be independent as its members were all nominated by Wade.
Senegal has long been seen as haven of stability in West Africa but the combination of Wade’s plans to stand for re-election, high youth unemployment in a rapidly urbanizing population and rolling power cuts have raised tensions.
“President Wade knows the current constitution does not allow him to have more than two terms,” Babacar Gueye, a law professor and one of the authors of the 2001 constitution, told Reuters on Thursday.
Before this week, Gueye had not spoken publicly on the issue. “I have waited to make this statement during the holy month of Ramadan to give more authenticity to my words,” he said.
Pape Demba Sy, another of the constitution’s authors, has also said Wade, who spent 26 years in opposition, should not be allowed to stand for re-election.
The Council must rule 29 days ahead of election day, which is currently set for Feb. 26.
“It’s a body that has no credibility at all. They are all appointed by President Wade. It’s more a political body than a legal one,” said opposition leader Abdoulaye Bathily.
Senegal’s fractured opposition parties, backed by various human rights groups and civic organisations, have held a series of street protests against Wade’s plans.
In June they forced a reversal of a move to lower the minimum winning score — a step seen benefiting the incumbent — to 25 percent.
However, Amadou Sall, a lawyer and spokesman for Wade’s candidacy brushed aside criticism.
“I can tell you that my reading of the constitution is that President Wade can be a candidate for another term,” he said.
The period for registering voters for the poll closed last week with 5.3 million people on the list, according to the latest figures on Aug. 8.