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Senegal: Election Briefing
Senegal: Election Briefing
Date distributed (ymd): 980523
Document reposted by APIC
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+
This posting contains a background briefing on the May 24 parliamentary
election in Senegal, prepared by the UN's Intergrated Regional Information
Network (IRIN) West Africa. It also contains a listing of selected web
sites for background information on Senegal and the elections.
[The material contained in this communication comes to you via IRIN
West Africa, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN IRIN-WA Tel:
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or can be retrieved automatically by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mailing list: irin-wa-weekly]
Senegal: Special Briefing on Parliamentarian Elections
Senegalese voters go to the polls on Sunday, 24 May, to elect a new
parliament for the next five years with some 5,000 candidates campaigning
for 140 seats in an expanded National Assembly. The candidates represent
18 rival parties or groups vying to challenge the Parti Socialiste (PS)
which has ruled the West African nation since independence from France
in 1960. So far, according to official figures, 3,070,512 voters have registered.
The PS is led by President Abdou Diouf, 63, who took office in 1981,
when Senegal's independence leader, Leopold Sedar Senghor, retired. Diouf
went on to win two five-year presidential terms and in 1993, after a constitutional
reform, he won a seven-year term in office. Today, his party holds a majority
of 84 seats in the outgoing parliament's 120 seats. Its nearest rival,
the liberal-leaning Parti Democratique Senegalais (PDS) led by Abdoulaye
Wade, 69, holds 27 seven seats with the remaining nine shared by smaller
groups. The PS has thus governed the country's political, economic and
social life for the better part of four decades. And although in the view
of diplomats and experts Senegal has long been regarded as a model of democracy
in Africa noted for its free press and multi-party politics, it has also
been prone to the problems of more authoritarian regimes on the continent.
As the weekly 'Jeune Afrique' noted: "Every election, even if it
meant resorting to fraud, simply had to be won by the PS, which has always
had access to solid backing in the administration, financing of a more
or less dubious nature, and the use of state radio and television."
Senegal watchers recalled how after the 1988 and 1993 presidential elections,
Diouf's main opponents were briefly jailed without trial on public order
charges before being drawn into the fold with offers of cabinet posts.
PS membership, diplomats said, has been virtually essential for promotion
in politics and government jobs.
Analysts see the major issues in Senegalese politics as broadly two-fold:
The perceived dominance of the PS, which many Senegalese, especially younger
people, accuse of effectively maintaining a one-party state; and the 15-year
conflict with separatists in the lush, southern coastal province of Casamance.
Following the end of a ceasefire in March 1997 which had held for almost
two years, leaders of the moderate wing of the separatist Mouvement des
Forces Democratiques de Casamance (MFDC) and Diouf expressed willingness
to discuss a new ceasefire. However, a meeting still remains to be scheduled.
As sporadic fighting has continued in recent months, the Casamance crisis
moved under the international spotlight when Amnesty International criticised
the government and MFDC for human rights violations. The charges in February
were rebuked by Diouf during a European visit. The cost of the conflict
in financial and political terms is yet to be gauged. The MFDC regards
the elections as irrelevant, but has said it will not prevent people from
Key personalities and how they see the election
Under constant pressure for the way it had organised and manipulated
previous elections, the government has agreed to opposition demands for
an independent electoral commission. Although the election will be organised
by the interior ministry, for the first time, a new nine-member watchdog
called the National Elections Observatory (ONEL) will monitor the polling.
It is headed by Mamadou Niang, a close associate of Diouf's and former
head of counter-espionage. In Senegal, the military do not vote, and in
a further move to placate the opposition, Diouf in January appointed the
former army chief, General Lamine Cisse, interior minister. The ONEL mandate
states that its members are chosen for their "honesty, integrity and
objectivity." "They will not solicit or receive in the exercise
of their duties instructions or orders from any public or private authority."
"So far," said PDS leader Wade, "the members of ONEL
have acted as patriots and so far there is nothing on which they can be
reproached." Mamadou Diop Decroix, deputy leader of a smaller opposition
party, the And-Jef, added: "This is the first time in 40 years where
the entire political class can participate in the elections with equal
However, the most important factor giving the opposition hopes of a
better election this time, according to Senegalese commentators, was the
decision last month of a "reformist" faction in the ruling PS
led by former foreign minister Djibo Ka to break away from the party and
form his own group, the Renouveau Democratique. The walkout was described
as particularly damaging to Diouf's chosen successor as PS secretary general,
Ousmane Tanor Dieng, for whom the election will be a key test. Analysts
said Dieng in recent months had intensified his efforts to control the
party and sideline potential rivals. Ka and 11 allies were suspended from
the party and he was temporarily barred from leaving the country. But the
measures backfired focusing even more national attention from a disenchanted
electorate on his calls for good governance and democratic reform.
Diplomats said they feared outbreaks of violence if the fairness of
the election is perceived as suspect in any way. Since the campaign started
at the beginning of the month, two people have been killed at separate
Senegal has also had to contend with three IMF structural adjustment
programmes and currency devaluation in 1994. Economic hardships coupled
with an education crisis have pushed unemployment up, leaving many new
voters disillusioned with the political process.
Crucial to the success of the politicians and their parties in predominantly
Muslim Senegal is political endorsement and backing of an array of Muslim
brotherhoods. Described by analysts as a major component of the country's
political and economic system, 95 percent of the population adhere to one
brotherhood or another, each of which is led by a marabout or spiritual
leader who imposes rules, maintains a strict work ethic and membership
obligations. Members can contribute up to 10 percent of their income to
the brotherhood, which in turn, is expected to share its collective wealth
The most powerful of these groups is the Mouride Brotherhood which is
led by the 92-year-old marabout, Abdoul Serigne Sadiou Lahat Mbacke, who
is also known as the Khalife General. It is backed by a powerful network
comprising roughly a quarter of the population and a powerful diaspora
which annually contributes millions of dollars to its coffers. It has previously
endorsed Diouf. The other major brotherhood is the Dahira Moustarchidine
wal Moustarchidati (those who seek the truth). Its leader, Moustapha Sy,
has a strong following in the capital, Dakar, and his backing enabled opposition
leader Wade to take the city during the 1993 election. Sy was imprisoned
for 10 months that year for criticising PS policies and the group was outlawed
in 1994 on allegations of inciting riots. The ban has since been lifted.
So far this year, the brotherhoods have not endorsed any of the candidates,
but they have repeatedly appealed to the populace for calm and called on
the government to ensure a free and fair election.
The main parties and how they stand:
Parti Socialist du Senegal (PS), the ruling party, led by President
Abdou Diof. Holds 84 seats in current parliament.
Renouveau Democratique (RD), PS breakaway led by Djibo Ka. Contesting
for first time.
Parti Democratique Senegalais (PDS) led by Aboulaye Wade. Holds 27 seats.
Ligue Democratique (LD), Marxist-leaning led by environment minister
Abdoulaye Bathily. Hold three seats.
Parti de l'Independence et de Travail (PIT), Marxist-leaning led by
Amath Dansokho. Holds two seats.
Union Democratique Senegalaise (UDS), a PDS breakaway led by Mamadou
Puritain Fall. Holds one seat.
Japoo Liggueyal Senegal (Japoo), known as the "let us unite league"
is an alliance of the And-Jef Parti pour la Democratie et le Socialisme,
and the smaller Rassemblement National Democratique (RND) and the Convention
des Democrates et Patriotes (CDP). Holds three seats.
Note: And-Jef is led by Landing Savane, a Casamance politician and the
only leader of a an opposition party who has not held a government post.
CDP leader Iba Der Thiam is spokesman for the collective of opposition
Abidjan, 21 May 1998
Selected Web Sites
Le Soleil (Dakar) Special on Legislative Elections
Elections special, in French.
Amnesty International Report "Terror in Casamance" http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news/press/releases/17_february_1998-0.shtml
Documents policy of terrorizing civilians adopted by \both sides in Casamance
Probably the best starting point if you read French. A wide variety of
links in Senegal.
Senegal Government Home Page
The Senegal government page has official government information and other
Senegal-based non-governmental organization focused on environment and
Includes special page on its Gender and Development program. English as
well as French.
Senegal Home Page
Senegal information and links by a Beverly Hills-based Senegalese.
A focus on Senegalese literature highlighting women authors. English/French.
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa
Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington
Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate
in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa,
by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and
analysis usable by a wide range of groups individuals.