Senegal's Wade hits campaign trail
09 February 2012, 10:29
Thies - Senegal leader Abdoulaye Wade, facing a
storm of criticism over his third term presidential bid, rallied voters
in the city of Thies on Wednesday evening after days of opposition
About 5 000 supporters gathered in a square of the city
70km east of Dakar for the 85-year-old's second big meeting since the
election campaign kicked off on Sunday on the back of riots over his
Wearing a blue and gold flowing boubou, reflecting
party colours, Wade promised to "eliminate poverty in Senegal" and give
greater social security for those aged over 60. Banners demanding a
first round win decked the square.
Thies is one of the country's
main cities which fell to the opposition in 2009 local elections, and
its mayor is presidential candidate Idrissa Seck, Wade's former prime
minister and presumed successor before the two fell out.
to strike a "deal" with voters, Wade said if he won back the city, he
would bring greater infrastructure development and high speed rail
Blaring campaign music praised the president for what
he calls his "Grand Projects", such as the construction of many new
roads including a recently opened toll highway, universities and health
centres, and a still incomplete new international airport.
among these "wonders" as proclaimed in one song is the African
Renaissance monument, a North Korean-built bronze behemoth costing $20m.
critics say his eye for infrastructural grandeur has left the people
behind, his development projects are cited by most supporters as their
reason for their ardent backing.
"He is the right president for
us. He has done many projects, we are very happy," said 51-year-old
marabout, or Muslim religious leader, Mamadou Sane.
student Fatime Diouf, 26, agreed: "Since his election he has done a lot
of work, we see Senegal developing. We support his third mandate."
mandate, seen as unconstitutional by the opposition, has sparked fury
in the west African nation seen as one of the continent's democratic
An opposition movement on Wednesday called for
fresh protests over the weekend. Protests since Wade's candidacy was
confirmed by the highest court on January 27 have descended into riots,
leaving four dead.
As Wade's blue-light convoy left Thies, a
handful of people, mostly youths, lobbed rocks at his convoy, setting a
tyre and Wade T-Shirts alight in the middle of the road.
"We are throwing stones at them to show our anger," said electrician Julien Gomis.
opposing Wade are fatigued by corruption, electricity cuts, rising fuel
and food prices while the president focuses on legacy construction
projects using what a US diplomatic cable published on Wikileaks refers
to as "pie in the sky" rhetoric.
A stone's throw away from
Wednesday's rally, Augustine Gomis, 53 railed against the cost of
living, increased price of sugar, bread and rice and access to health
care. "We are tired, tired," she told AFP.
Wade, however, remains
certain of a first round victory on February 26, brushing aside
opposition concerns and criticism from abroad.
Beacon of democracy
will face 13 other candidates in an open race with no clear opposition
favourite, and a split vote could hurt their bid to oust Wade from
Wade was first elected in 2000, an outcome met with
elation as he took over from Abdou Diouf and the Socialist Party after
25 years as opposition leader.
The peaceful transition was
welcomed as a beacon of democracy in a troubled region. This was
fortified as Wade a year later introduced two term limits into the
country's constitution for the first time to strengthen its democracy.
However term lengths were amended in 2008, and the octogenarian now says this entitles him to two seven year terms from 2012.
opposition has vowed to pressure him to withdraw his candidacy and
Washington and Paris have both criticised his run for re-election.
Tuesday US Ambassador Lewis Lukens was summoned to a meeting with the
foreign minister. While the details were not divulged, it came after he
gave a critical interview to local journalists.
statements made by Washington, Lukens said it was "regrettable that Wade
has chosen to compromise the elections, to put the security of his
country in peril by insisting on seeking a third mandate".