March 2, 2012 / 1:23 PM / 6 years ago

Senegal's anti-Wade coalition gathers pace

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, September 10, 2008. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegalese presidential challenger Macky Sall won new support on Friday as key figures in the country’s street protests urged their followers to vote for him in next month’s run-off against incumbent Abdoulaye Wade.

Wade, 85, fell short of the majority needed for victory in Sunday’s first round, scoring 34.8 percent against his former prime minister Sall’s 26.6 percent. Senegal has a long tradition as a peaceful democracy and the vote is being closely watched in African and Western capitals.

Influential world music star Youssou N‘Dour has already declared his support for Sall and protest leaders who argue that Wade is barred by the West African nation’s constitution from seeking a third term confirmed they would also back him.

“We are calling all young Senegalese to vote en masse in the second round and to ignore the Wade ballot because for us he is not a candidate,” Fadel Barro, one of the co-founders of the “Y En A Marre” (“Fed Up”) street movement told Reuters.

Leading civil rights activist Alioune Tine also backed Sall and said he was seeking to persuade the 12 other presidential candidates defeated in the first round to back him.

“We always said Wade’s candidacy was anti-constitutional. Since he used tricks to force it through we will use the ballot box to make him leave,” said Tine, a leader in the “M23” movement named after June 23 anti-Wade protests last year that ended in fierce clashes with security forces.

Wade argues that a 2001 re-working of the constitution which includes term limits cannot apply to his first term which started a year earlier, allowing him to stand again for the presidency.

At least six people died in violence before Sunday’s poll but the vote itself was peaceful. EU election observers said it was generally well-run but raised concerns over the handling by authorities of the individual elector cards needed to vote.

While most presidential challengers to Wade have supported the protest movement against his bid, many have still not given their full endorsement to Sall, who like Wade is an economic liberal. The second round is due to be held on either March 18 or 25.

Third-placed Moustapha Niasse, who scored 13 percent, has so far said only that he would refuse any alliance offer by Wade. Socialist candidate Ousmane Tanor Dieng and Idrissa Seck, another former Wade ally, have yet to make clear pronouncements.

In his first post-election news conference, Sall pledged to tackle major Senegalese concerns such as the high cost of food and to prioritise spending to fight poverty.

Wade allies accused Sall of denigrating the role of the mostly Muslim country’s religious leaders, the “marabouts” who in the past have used their influence to swing votes.

However Sall, himself a Muslim, insisted his remark that the marabouts were simple citizens had not been intended to dispute their special role in Senegalese society.

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