Wade rivals, critics warn of Senegal trouble after speech

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Critics and rivals of Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade warned of political tensions and more street protests if the president goes ahead with plans to seek a third term in an election due in February.

In his first speech since violent protests rocked Senegal’s capital last month, Wade appeared to dig in on Thursday, saying he was confident of winning re-election and would bring the vote forward if the opposition wanted.

He also warned that the security forces would stamp out any trouble in the former French colony, which has long been an island of political stability in a turbulent region.
“Wade is using diversionary tactics,” Ibrahima Sene, a senior member of the opposition Bennoo Siggil Senegal coalition, said of the offer of an early poll.
“Why would we have an early election when he cannot take part?” Sene added. “If he keeps pushing it, he will find us in the streets again.”

Critics accuse Wade’s entourage of rampant corruption and say he is going back on promises not to seek a new term. They consider his bid for a third term a breach of a constitutional rule requiring the president to step down after two terms.

Wade’s camp argues that constitutional changes in 2001 mean his first term from 2000 to 2007 did not count and he is in fact only coming to the end of his first full term in power.

The constitutional court will ultimately decide on his eligibility.

Violent protests erupted on June 23 against Wade’s plans to change the election law to reduce to 25 percent the minimum vote a candidate needed to win in one round.

The president backtracked on those plans, but violence resumed days later over recurring power cuts, which have heightened frustrations with the octogenarian leader. Calls are mounting that he bow out of the election.
‘SITUATION IS VERY SERIOUS’

Speaking in Wolof after a speech in French, Wade conceded he had gone back on a statement in 2007 that he would not seek a new term. “That’s what I said but I am not saying it now,” he said in the predominant local language of Senegal.
“In trying to force things and stay in power, Wade is stoking political tensions that could end in chaos,” said Alioune Tine, the head of pan-African, Dakar-based rights group

RADDHO.

Tine warned the standoff risked dragging the country into a crisis similar to Niger, where Mamadou Tandja was ousted in a coup after seeking to extend his term as leader, or Ivory Coast, where war erupted after Laurent Gbagbo clung to power despite losing a presidential election late last year. Gbagbo was eventually forced out after a five-month conflict.
“The international community needs to wake up to the situation in Senegal and not just wait until it is burning to try and put it out. The situation is very serious. People will organise themselves to resist, you will see,” Tine added.



Wade came to power after years in opposition and while Senegal has avoided the instability, coups and conflicts many other countries in the region have endured, politics and complaints over high living costs and power cuts have created a dangerous mix of frustrations.