Vote count underway in Senegal’s presidential pollSun, 24 Mar 2024 21:42:46 GMT

Vote counting got underway Sunday in Senegal’s presidential election pitching continuity against radical change following several years of unrest and a political crisis.The winner will be tasked with steering Senegal, viewed as a beacon of democracy in coup-hit West Africa, out of its recent troubles and managing revenues from oil and gas reserves that are shortly to start production.Anti-establishment candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye appeared ahead of the governing coalition’s former prime minister, Amadou Ba, according to provisional results from individual polling stations broadcast by local media and on social networks.Both were far ahead of the 15 other candidates at around 2100 GMT, three hours after the end of voting. The two men were once tax inspectors but Ba, 62, now stands for continuity while the 43-year-old Faye promises profound change and left-wing pan-Africanism.Hundreds gathered at Faye’s campaign headquarters in the capital Dakar in the early evening, singing and dancing to the sound of klaxons and drums. Young people on motorbikes paraded the streets chanting “to the (presidential) palace”. The atmosphere was more sombre among the few dozen supporters at Ba’s headquarters.Radio and television stations read out the results from each of the 16,000 polling stations in Senegal and abroad without aggregating them.Official results are not expected before the end of the week.Both contenders had pitched themselves as the best candidate for young people in a county where half the population is under 20.”I voted for Diomaye without thinking,” said Diaraaf Gaye, a 26-year-old shopkeeper, earlier in the day.”It’s time for the country to start on a new footing with young people” in power.But 23-year-old housekeeper Ndeye Penda Faye said she was pinning her hopes on the government’s candidate.”(President) Macky Sall has done a lot of work and that’s why I’m going to vote for Amadou Ba, to continue the work,” she said.- ‘Finally got there’ -Senegal was originally due to vote on February 25, but an 11th-hour postponement by Sall triggered the worst political crisis in decades that left four dead.On Sunday, voters queued calmly outside polling stations, many having woken up early to pray before daybreak before heading straight to polling stations.Voting materials including ballot boxes were still labelled with the original February poll date.”We finally got there. May God be praised,” said Mita Diop, a 51-year-old trader. “Recent times haven’t been easy for Senegal which has experienced several upheavals.”Opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko — who was barred from standing due to a defamation conviction — said young people had “massively” turned out to vote.”We are convinced that at the end of this day the victory will be dazzling,” Sonko said, referring to his deputy and endorsed candidate, Faye, as he voted in his southern stronghold of Ziguinchor.Both Faye and Ba said they were “confident” of a first-round victory after casting their votes earlier Sunday. An absolute majority is required for a candidate to win in the first round. – Calm, efficient -Sall, who is not standing after serving two terms, warned candidates against making premature election victory claims. “It is neither up to a candidate, nor to a (political) camp to proclaim victory or results,” Sall said after voting with his wife in the central western town of Fatick. Hundreds of observers from civil society, the African Union, the ECOWAS regional group and the European Union were on hand.The head of the EU mission, Malin Bjork, said voting had taken place “calmly, efficiently and (in a) very orderly manner”.After weeks of confusion, Senegal’s top constitutional body overruled Sall’s attempt to delay the vote until December and forced him to reset the date to March 24, resulting in a rushed campaign that clashed with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Ba, Sall’s hand-picked would-be successor, has positioned himself as a last bastion against “bandits”. He urged people to vote “for experience and competence instead of entrusting the reins of the country to adventurers”. On Sunday, he spoke of a programme of consolidation and acceleration of “everything that has been done so far”. But Sall’s legacy also includes mass arrests, persistent poverty, 20-percent unemployment and thousands of migrants setting off on the perilous voyage to Europe each year. Several episodes of unrest triggered partly by a stand-off between firebrand Sonko and the state have seen dozens killed and hundreds arrested since 2021.A rapidly passed amnesty law led to the March 14 release from prison of Faye and the charismatic Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential poll.