Fireworks and dancing in the streets marked the concession of Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade to opposition candidate Macky Sall late Sunday, in a run-off ballot. The election continues Senegal’s tradition of democratic successions since its independence from France in April, 1960.
The 85-year-old Wade had sparked controversy by insisting that the two-term limit for serving presidents, enacted after he was in office, did not apply to him. The country saw rising tensions during the campaign, including large-scale demonstrations, with some expressing fears that Wade would find a way to cling to power, ushering in social unrest.
When Wade took office in 2000, hopes were high for improved standards of living. He easily won election in 2007, in a campaign managed by the victor in Sunday’s vote. But despite steady economic growth averaging 4 percent in recent years, prices have risen even faster, while unemployment – especially among young people – has also mounted. The aging president’s appointment of his son to head several government ministries added to the government’s unpopularity.
Fifty-year-old Sall campaigned on a platform of economic reform and service delivery. A one-time Wade ally, he has served as prime minister and president of the national assembly, among other posts.
His background as a geological engineer and minister of mines and energy will be put to the test as Senegal seeks greater benefits from its natural resources. The continuing rise in world gold prices has attracted thousands of migrants to dangerous informal mines, where mercury poisoning has become a significant problem. Sall’s first challenge will be dealing with the high expectations for change from a growing population, half of whom were too young to vote in this election.