March 23, 2009 / 6:28 PM / 10 years ago

Senegal polls deliver blow to president and son

* Ruling coalition loses power in key councils

* Wade’s son Karim almost guaranteed a Dakar council seat

* But results suggest popular rejection of president, son

By Diadie Ba and Alistair Thomson

DAKAR, March 23 (Reuters) - Senegalese voters delivered a serious blow to President Abdoulaye Wade in local elections and damaged his son’s chances of succeeding him in 2012, partial results showed on Monday.

Incomplete results from Sunday’s election on local media showed Wade’s ruling SOPI coalition lost control of the council in the capital Dakar and other key cities in the West African country such as St Louis and Louga.

The elections were widely seen as a referendum on the 82-year-old Wade’s government and widespread expectation that his son Karim will stand when his father’s second and final term ends in 2012.

Senegal has long been seen as a rare democracy in the region, but Wade’s critics say his rule has been increasingly authoritarian. Meanwhile, social pressures have increased due to rising prices and the global economic slowdown.

Wade’s son, already a presidential adviser and head of a powerful state agency, was almost guaranteed his first elected position as a member of Dakar council, but without a majority the ruling coalition’s influence will be limited.

The partial results indicated the opposition coalition Benno Siggil Senegaal (United to put right Senegal) would win enough seats to be able to name the capital’s mayor.

"The Senegalese have rejected the policy pursued until now by the presidential camp," said Benno Siggil Senegaal spokesman Serigne Mbaye Thiam.


Wade’s camp said the results rather reflected local issues.

"We can’t talk of a rejection of national policy, but rather some voters have expressed a need to pursue local policies in a different way," said Wade’s spokesman Amadou Sall.

But many said the vote reflected more profound concerns.

"These elections had a national character: the opposition formed a national coalition. On the other side the president sought approval for his son standing to succeed him," said Mohamed Mbodj, coordinator of a national civil society forum.

Others put it more simply.

"Wade has lost so everybody is happy," said a taxi driver, who asked not to be quoted by name. "Nobody wants Karim Wade."

Neither father nor son have stated whether Karim Wade would stand in the 2012 election. Asked the question directly last week, Karim Wade replied: "God alone knows."

Wade’s ruling SOPI coalition managed a victory in Ziguinchor, capital of Senegal’s southern Casamance region, where it wrested back control of the mayor’s office from the opposition Socialist Party.

Wade’s election in 2000 overturned four decades of Socialist Party rule since independence from France in 1960. He was re-elected in 2007 with over 50 percent of first-round votes.

The main opposition said that poll was unfair and boycotted subsequent parliamentary polls, denting the democratic credentials of a country favoured by donors as one of the few West African states never to have had a coup. (Writing by Alistair Thomson; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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