Election Day in Senegal

Senegalese people went to the polls yesterday in what I considered to be under very peaceful circumstances.

Most polls were conducted at schools, one of which I happened to be near my apartment. The large majority started at 8am and closed at 6pm – those that started later, i.e. at 9am closed at 7pm, etc. I suspected something extraordinary was going on as the usually quiet street across from my house was now buzzing (this I was able to see from my terrace) with cars pulling in and out and people traipsing about. I decided to satisfy my curiosity by taking a mini walk on the street just after 5pm before heading to my ex-colleague’s that lived nearby to watch tv footage of the events of the day. I noted nothing odd. The people who lived across the polling station/school had pulled up chairs in front of their homes to watch the scene. I did not go inside (and tried to be nonchalant as possible) but from outside, I noted a few people sitting on a bench inside the school compound talking and jesting. The real scene of action was a classroom just within the compound where a few people emerged from having voted. I noted nothing unscrupulous, scandalous or violent.

I was a little annoyed/bored (I had even contemplated taking my camera along for the walk although I would have been disappointed like every other time I contemplate taking my camera with me and return home not sad at all as there had been nothing camera-worthy) but I was actually relieved. I reasoned, well, my area is usually quiet anyway so no surprise there, perhaps when I go watch tv, there will be more exciting stuff going on.

When I arrived at my ex-colleague’s place, the only thing exciting was the colour of the shirt of one of the three journalists on the local channel they had been watching all day. No footage of election violence, unruly behaviour, not even in the so-called ‘popular neighbouhods’. Once again, I was bored/disappointed but IMMENSELY relieved. I am so proud of Senegalese people! True, some say that they’re weird Africans but they’re mighty peaceful ones so we’ll deal with their weirdness any day.  As the husband of my ex-colleague noted, even if some were paid to ‘shut their eyes’ to questionable behaviour, in this internet on your phone age, someone would have taken photos/videos of such things and circulated them. But there have been no such thing reported, YET. So as he further reasoned, since no one is alleging (or has alleged) fraud, and since all candidates stood for the election, it will be hard to make a case for fraud even if the incumbent wins.

But voter turnout was terrible. Prior to the elections, there had been some five million registered voters. As the results were coming in (they would start off with the number of registered voters and the number who actually turned out), it was apparent that probably less (in my estimate) than half the number of registered voters had actually turned out to vote. Eventually it was said that some 3 million people voted, some 25% of the population! Granted the entire population is not eligible to vote, it is still a very low number. So what happened? Apathy? Even the husband of my ex-colleague that I went to visit did not go to vote (I think he didn’t have time to register or something to that effect). During my couple of hours at their home, they received three visitors, all Senegalese, none of whom had gone to vote. And all four of these are really informed, educated folk. I think many people probably just felt that there was no point (they felt the president would win anyway and did not want to go waste their time) AND (perhaps more importantly, and as I alluded to some posts ago), people think most, if not all the candidates, are the same – particularly the three who previously served for the incumbent, one of whom is Macky Sall, the one most likely to face the president in the case of a runoff. In short, many people, especially the informed ones, felt they had no decent option so they decided not to exercise their right to choose.

I was reminded me of the last Canadian election. Many people were dissatisfied with Harper’s overly sophisticated ego and gradual conversion to US conservatism but he won, howbeit with one of the lowest voter turnouts in a long time (if we had runoffs in Canada, the election would have resulted in one). The opposition presented neither good enough cases for their causes nor good enough choices (as the voters saw it) – people couldn’t identify with Ignatieff, and although Quebecois turned out to vote for one of their sons, Layton in droves, it was never going to be enough to win.

Which brings me to this: it is VERY difficult to unseat the incumbent. And it has seldom been done in history. I read an article some time ago that pegged the % of times an incumbent has won an election at at least 80 (or if not higher). So Barack Obama, unless you say you hate white people and were a former black panther, you don’t have much to worry about. In fact, you shouldn’t even have to spend half of the 780 billion USD that it has been alleged was spent on your campaign in 2008.

But I digress – the results have not yet been confirmed but it looks like either the president wins (he has to win at least 51% to avoid a runoff), or he has to face the runner-up in a run off at some point later. At first when the results were coming in around 6:30pm, as polls began to close, the thing was looking sure fire for the incumbent. But later on in the night, as more results began to be announced, it was looking more like a run off would need to happen between the incumbent and a candidate named Macky Sall (and ex cabinet minister for the president), although this dude later annoyed me when one of his speakers went on the radio to proclaim his victory (while votes were still being counted!), calling him President Macky Sall.

This morning on the radio however, I heard a government official claiming victory for the President, putting him at some 53-55% of the votes (a little suspect if he needed to win 51% to avoid a runoff) and then a colleague just told me the President won some 30-something percent, while Macky Sall won some twenty-something percent.

In any case, it is once again, the constitutional council (the one that allowed the president to run) that announces the official results of these elections so we wait and see what they come up with this time.

So Mr. Incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade, if you do win another seven year term (SEVEN!), don’t get it twisted – it’s not because people chose you, it’s because they did not want to chose the others!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. kadji
    Apr 13, 2012 @ 21:59:04

    I like your post. I believe, he was being called president for being the “president’ of his party APR & not his excellence the president of Senegal so early before the finishing of the ‘scrutin’.


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