DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade has run into a dispute over his plans to stand for a third term in 2012, with opponents and legal experts warning it would run counter to a rule limiting leaders to two terms.
The ex-French colony on the West African coast was for years held up as a rare democratic success in an unstable region. But the country's image as a promising investment destination is being damaged by questions over public finances and the Wade government's handling of graft accusations.
Wade was first elected in 2000 to a 7-year term under the the constitution of the time, which was in 2001 changed to limit a president to a maximum two terms of five years each.
Wade won a 2007 election, meaning his mandate will expire in 2012 and cannot be renewed. But he argues the first mandate in 2000 was not covered by the new constitutional arrangements and so he still has the right to run again.
"When we were drafting the new constitution we had a political agreement that he would serve his first term of seven years (instead of five years) but all the other constitutional limitations would apply to him," Pape Demba Sy, a law professor who helped draft the 2001 constitution, told Reuters.
Local media have leapt on a 2007 interview with Wade in which he is reported as saying he was bound by the term limit.
"I have limited the number of (presidential) terms to two. I can't seek another term," local media quoted Wade as saying in the interview given to local and foreign journalists in his presidential palace directly after his re-election.
However backers of Wade, whose government faced widespread public anger because of frequent power cuts, say he is entitled to seek another term.
"Wade as a candidate in the 2012 presidential election will be accepted as lawful," Prime Minister Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye said in a public address this week.
"The opposition knows it will lose the next election that is why they are raising this question now," said Wade's spokesman Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye.