More than six million people have registered to vote in Senegal’s presidential election scheduled to hold on Sunday. The poll is the first since 2016 when the West African country reduce the presidential term from seven to five years.
President Macky Sall, 57, who is seeking re-election is favourite to win on Sunday but four others are mounting a challenge. Two of Senegal’s most popular opposition leaders were barred from contesting the election, having been jailed for corruption.
Former mayor Dakar, the Senegalese capital Khalifa Sall (not related to the president) is serving a five-year jail term. Karim Wade served half of a six-year jail term before going into exile in Qatar in 2017. His father, Abdoulaye Wade led Senegal as its third president from 2000 to 2012.
Both Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade deny the corruption charges, claiming they are politically motivated. Amnesty International also said both men were subject to “unfair trials.”
President Sall will be hoping the ambitious, big-budget projects his government completed in recent months, including a new bridge, the Museum of Black Civilisations and a new train line, will be enough to sway voters. But there are several Senegalese voters who want him out, regardless of the infrastructural development which they acknowledge.
“These projects have no importance, it’s all politics,” the BBC quoted Mamadou Senghor, a motorbike rider in Kaolack, a town in west-central Senegal.
“What’s the point of building highways with tolls if young people don’t have work to pay for them? Before building highways, you have to industrialise the economy so that young people can find jobs and support their families.”
Others call him a puppet to France. “Macky Sall has no ability to change our lives,” Mamadou Goumbada, a 70-year-old retired teacher told Al Jazeera.
“He has sold the country’s wealth to French companies. He is France’s candidate. Idrissa Seck will never do that,” Goumbada, an opposition supporter said. Seck is Senegal’s former prime minister, who served during Wade’s presidency. He is one of four candidates challenging for Sall’s seat.
Another candidate and the youngest of all and candidate of the Pastef Partie, 44-year-old Ousmane Sonko, is also campaigning to put Senegal first if he wins.
“Sonko proposes a gradual, prudent and responsible exit from the franc CFA monetary system that is holding our economies hostage,” says Mamadou Yauck, a Pastef Partie activist and deputy head of IT for the Sonko campaign.
Eight francophone countries in West Africa use the French franc since the end of the colonial era. Countries using the currency pegged to the euro, are compelled to keep 50 percent of their foreign exchange reserves in a French treasury account.
President Sall says he has created more than 490,000 jobs during his first term and has promised to add 1 million more if re-elected.