DAKAR, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Senegal is heading for its most contentious election in recent history on Sunday.
At least six people have been killed in street clashes between opposition protesters and police since late January, when a top legal council whose lead judge was appointed by Wade ruled the 85-year-old president could run for a third term.
The election pits Wade against more than a dozen challengers that include several of his former allies. Here are some details about Wade and his main rivals.
Wade has been president since 2000, when he won elections more than two decades after he first challenged Senegal’s independence president Leopold Sedar Senghor in the polls.
His rise to power after years in opposition politics was widely seen as a victory for democracy in the West African state, but he has since drawn criticism from his rivals for becoming increasingly autocratic and for flouting a constitutional two-term limit with his bid to run again.
Educated in France in the 1950s, Wade worked as a consultant for the African Development Bank before entering politics. He formed the Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS) in 1974, four years before running and losing against his former socialist ally Senghor, who nicknamed him ‘the Hare’ - an animal which in Senegal symbolises cunning as a fox does in Europe.
Wade spent short spells in prison in the late 1980s and the 1990s on charges of inciting street protests and left Senegal for brief exile in France in 1998. He returned to stand in the 2000 elections, when he ousted the long-ruling Socialists.
He has touted infrastructure projects including new roads and an airport as major achievements during his presidency.
But his popularity has waned in recent years among ordinary Senegalese, many of whom accuse him of not doing enough to improve their daily lives as food prices rise and jobs and salaries stagnate.
Seeking to win votes with a message of continuity, Wade is running under the slogan “This is the man to trust”.
For more detailed insight into Wade and his political career, click here:
Macky Sall, 50, is a former ally of President Wade who has held several high level posts, including minister of energy and mines, minister of the interior, and prime minister. After Wade’s re-election in 2007, Sall was nominated president of the national assembly. He fell out with Wade after summoning the president’s son, Karim, to explain the management of funds allocated for the organisation of an Islamic summit. He resigned all his posts a year later and created his own party, the Alliance pour la République (APR-Yakaar), for which he is standing in the Feb. 26 presidential election.
In his campaign manifesto, Sall has promised to strengthen Senegal’s democratic institutions while attacking the problems of poverty and unemployment, especially among the youth. He also promises to build up Senegal’s infrastructure and develop its mineral resources. Sall is trained as a geologist and geophysicist in Dakar and Paris.
Idrissa Seck, 52, is also a former Wade ally and prime minister. He started managing Wade campaigns at the age of 29. After Wade won in 2000, he was appointed minister of state and chief of staff. He later became prime minister from 2002 but was sacked in 2004 after disagreements with the president.
On his web site, he claims he was angered by corruption and nepotism in the government, including Wade’s foiled plans to be succeeded by his son Karim. He was briefly imprisoned for alleged corruption, though charges were later dismissed by a court. He formed his Rewmi party in 2006 and came in second in 2007 elections against Wade with 15 percent of the vote. He was educated at Princeton and is a former employee of Price Waterhouse Coopers.
According to his web site, he is running on a broad agenda to modernise and expand the economy, and improve education, healthcare and the justice system.
Moustapha Niasse, 72, is another former ally of Wade’s who also briefly served as his prime minister. The two fell out early on in Wade’s first term as president, and have since become bitter rivals. Niasse ran against Wade in the 2007 elections, and came fourth in the vote after Wade accused him of corruption during his time in the cabinet.
Niasse served as U.N. special envoy to Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s and again from 2001. He later acquired an interest in two Congo oil blocks through his company Surestream Petroleum, where he is listed as chairman and founding member. The France-educated lawyer has also been chairman, CEO and director of various other companies in the private sector, including ITOC Group, comprising seven companies dealing in crude oil and refined products, insurance and port activities.
He leads the Alliance des Forces de Progres, or AFP party, which he formed in 1999. His campaign emphasises bolstering the economy by improving the business environment and promoting local manufacturing.
Ousmane Tanor Dieng, born in 1948, is the head of Senegal’s Socialist Party and came third in the 2007 elections against Wade. He has held several government posts, including that of advisor to Senghor and minister in charge of presidential services and affairs under ex-president Abdou Diouf. He was heavily influence by Senghor’s philosophy of an integrated Africa and African conflict resolution.
Dieng was accused by Wade of illegally selling fishing licenses in 1992, a charge he denies.
He has said he would promote “economic patriotism” if elected president. (Writing by Richard Valdmanis and Bate Felix; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)