Senegal on Sunday voted in parliamentary elections the opposition hopes will force a coalition with President Macky Sall and curb any ambitions he may have for a third term.
Sixty-year-old Sall, who was elected in 2012 for seven years then re-elected in 2019 for another five, has been accused of wanting to break the two-term limit and run again in 2024.
He has remained vague on the subject, but any defeat of his supporters in Sunday’s vote could upset such plans.
Polling stations opened at 0800 GMT and began closing at 1800 GMT for the single round of voting in which some seven million Senegalese are eligible to vote.
The voting continued calmly throughout the day.
Partial results are expected later Sunday with provisional overall figures to be given no later than Friday.
By midday (1200 GMT), turnout had reached 22 percent, a source close to the interior ministry in charge of the elections told AFP.
Turnout at several polling stations appeared relatively low, according to AFP correspondents and observers.
In Scat Urbam, a suburb near Dakar, far fewer voters than in past polls were waiting to cast their ballots.
The situation was the same in the capital’s working-class district of Grand Medine as well as in Ziguinchor, capital of the southern region of Casamance, according to AFP journalists.
Rising prices At the start of voting in the courtyard of a school in Mbao, near Dakar, around 100 mostly elderly people were preparing to vote. Police were also on hand to ensure security, an AFP journalist said.
“I hope voting day goes off peacefully and there are no disputes,” said Lamine Sylva, a 60-year-old artist.
“It’s like football — there is a winner and a loser.”
Yahya Sall, a retired soldier, said he hoped the new parliament “will have a strong opposition presence… to advance democracy”.
The national election commission has deployed 22,000 observers nationwide.
The ballot will decide the 165 seats of the single-chamber parliament — currently controlled by the president’s supporters — for the next five years.
Lawmakers are elected according to a system that combines proportional representation, with national lists for 53 lawmakers, and majority voting in the country’s departments for 97 others.
The diaspora elects the remaining 15 members of parliament.
This year, eight coalitions are in the running, including Yewwi Askan Wi (“Liberate the People” in Wolof), the main opposition coalition.
Its highest-profile member, Ousmane Sonko, came third in the 2019 presidential election.
But he and other members of the coalition were banned from running in Sunday’s elections on technical grounds.
The vote took place against a backdrop of rising prices, in part because of the war in Ukraine.
The opposition has questioned the priorities of the government, which has highlighted its subsidies for oil products and food as well as infrastructure building.
“Is the priority of the Senegalese to build beautiful stadiums, new highways while people are not eating?” Sonko said after casting his ballot in Ziguinchor.
Raising the alarm over reports of low turnout, he called on voters to vote in numbers “to balance the powers”.
Sall said that “beyond our individual choices, there is everything we share and must preserve as a united and supportive nation”.
“It’s peace, stability, security, territorial integrity of our country and national cohesion,” added Sall as he voted in Fatick, 150 kilometres (90 miles) southeast of Dakar. He also praised the organisation of the election.
Opposition collaboration Ahead of the poll, Yewwi Askan Wi joined forces with Wallu Senegal (“Save Senegal”), led by former president Abdoulaye Wade.
The two groups agreed to work together to obtain a parliamentary majority and “force governmental cohabitation”.
They also want to force Sall to give up any hope of running again for president in 2024.
“If Macky Sall loses them (the legislative elections), he will no longer talk about a third term,” Sonko said.
In local elections in March, the opposition won in major cities, including the capital Dakar, Ziguinchor in the south and Thies in the west.
Sonko and other members of the Yewwi Askan Wi coalition were forbidden from running in Sunday’s elections, after the authorities in early June tossed out its national list of candidates on technical grounds.
One of the names had been accidentally put down both as a first-choice candidate and as an alternate candidate, thus invalidating the entire list.
That sparked violent demonstrations that left at least three people dead.
On June 29, the opposition finally agreed to take part in the elections, easing tensions.