Senegal: IRIN-WA Special Briefing on Elections in Senegal, 98.5.21

Senegal: IRIN-WA Special Briefing on Elections in Senegal, 98.5.21

U N I T E D N A T I O N S Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network For West Africa

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[This brief is intended as background information for the humanitarian community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the UN]

IRIN-West Africa: Senegal: Special Briefing on Parliamentarian Elections, 98.5.21

The election

Senegalese voters go to the polls on Sunday, 24 May, to elect a new parliament for the next five years with some 5,000 candidates campaigning for 140 seats in an expanded National Assembly. The candidates represent 18 rival parties or groups vying to challenge the Parti Socialiste (PS) which has ruled the West African nation since independence from France in 1960. So far, according to official figures, 3,070,512 voters have registered.

The context

The PS is led by President Abdou Diouf, 63, who took office in 1981, when Senegal's independence leader, Leopold Sedar Senghor, retired. Diouf went on to win two five-year presidential terms and in 1993, after a constitutional reform, he won a seven-year term in office. Today, his party holds a majority of 84 seats in the outgoing parliament's 120 seats. Its nearest rival, the liberal-leaning Parti Democratique Senegalais (PDS) led by Abdoulaye Wade, 69, holds 27 seven seats with the remaining nine shared by smaller groups. The PS has thus governed the country's political, economic and social life for the better part of four decades. And although in the view of diplomats and experts Senegal has long been regarded as a model of democracy in Africa noted for its free press and multi-party politics, it has also been prone to the problems of more authoritarian regimes on the continent.

As the weekly 'Jeune Afrique' noted: "Every election, even if it meant resorting to fraud, simply had to be won by the PS, which has always had access to solid backing in the administration, financing of a more or less dubious nature, and the use of state radio and television." Senegal watchers recalled how after the 1988 and 1993 presidential elections, Diouf's main opponents were briefly jailed without trial on public order charges before being drawn into the fold with offers of cabinet posts. PS membership, diplomats said, has been virtually essential for promotion in politics and government jobs.

Main issues

Analysts see the major issues in Senegalese politics as broadly two-fold: The perceived dominance of the PS, which many Senegalese, especially younger people, accuse of effectively maintaining a one-party state; and the 15-year conflict with separatists in the lush, southern coastal province of Casamance. Following the end of a ceasefire in March 1997 which had held for almost two years, leaders of the moderate wing of the separatist Mouvement des Forces Democratiques de Casamance (MFDC) and Diouf expressed willingness to discuss a new ceasefire. However, a meeting still remains to be scheduled. As sporadic fighting has continued in recent months, the Casamance crisis moved under the international spotlight when Amnesty International criticised the government and MFDC for human rights violations. The charges in February were rebuked by Diouf during a European visit. The cost of the conflict in financial and political terms is yet to be gauged. The MFDC regards the elections as irrelevant, but has said it will not prevent people from voting.

Key personalities and how they see the election

Under constant pressure for the way it had organised and manipulated previous elections, the government has agreed to opposition demands for an independent electoral commission. Although the election will be organised by the interior ministry, for the first time, a new nine-member watchdog called the National Elections Observatory (ONEL) will monitor the polling. It is headed by Mamadou Niang, a close associate of Diouf's and former head of counter-espionage. In Senegal, the military do not vote, and in a further move to placate the opposition, Diouf in January appointed the former army chief, General Lamine Cisse, interior minister. The ONEL mandate states that its members are chosen for their "honesty, integrity and objectivity." "They will not solicit or receive in the exercise of their duties instructions or orders from any public or private authority."

"So far," said PDS leader Wade, "the members of ONEL have acted as patriots and so far there is nothing on which they can be reproached." Mamadou Diop Decroix, deputy leader of a smaller opposition party, the And-Jef, added: "This is the first time in 40 years where the entire political class can participate in the elections with equal chances."

However, the most important factor giving the opposition hopes of a better election this time, according to Senegalese commentators, was the decision last month of a "reformist" faction in the ruling PS led by former foreign minister Djibo Ka to break away from the party and form his own group, the Renouveau Democratique. The walkout was described as particularly damaging to Diouf's chosen successor as PS secretary general, Ousmane Tanor Dieng, for whom the election will be a key test. Analysts said Dieng in recent months had intensified his efforts to control the party and sideline potential rivals. Ka and 11 allies were suspended from the party and he was temporarily barred from leaving the country. But the measures backfired focusing even more national attention from a disenchanted electorate on his calls for good governance and democratic reform.

Diplomats said they feared outbreaks of violence if the fairness of the election is perceived as suspect in any way. Since the campaign started at the beginning of the month, two people have been killed at separate political rallies.

Senegal has also had to contend with three IMF structural adjustment programmes and currency devaluation in 1994. Economic hardships coupled with an education crisis have pushed unemployment up, leaving many new voters disillusioned with the political process.

Crucial to the success of the politicians and their parties in predominantly Muslim Senegal is political endorsement and backing of an array of Muslim brotherhoods. Described by analysts as a major component of the country's political and economic system, 95 percent of the population adhere to one brotherhood or another, each of which is led by a marabout or spiritual leader who imposes rules, maintains a strict work ethic and membership obligations. Members can contribute up to 10 percent of their income to the brotherhood, which in turn, is expected to share its collective wealth and opportunities.

The most powerful of these groups is the Mouride Brotherhood which is led by the 92-year-old marabout, Abdoul Serigne Sadiou Lahat Mbacke, who is also known as the Khalife General. It is backed by a powerful network comprising roughly a quarter of the population and a powerful diaspora which annually contributes millions of dollars to its coffers. It has previously endorsed Diouf. The other major brotherhood is the Dahira Moustarchidine wal Moustarchidati (those who seek the truth). Its leader, Moustapha Sy, has a strong following in the capital, Dakar, and his backing enabled opposition leader Wade to take the city during the 1993 election. Sy was imprisoned for 10 months that year for criticising PS policies and the group was outlawed in 1994 on allegations of inciting riots. The ban has since been lifted.

So far this year, the brotherhoods have not endorsed any of the candidates, but they have repeatedly appealed to the populace for calm and called on the government to ensure a free and fair election.

The main parties and how they stand:

Parti Socialist du Senegal (PS), the ruling party, led by President Abdou Diof. Holds 84 seats in current parliament.

Renouveau Democratique (RD), PS breakaway led by Djibo Ka. Contesting for first time.

Parti Democratique Senegalais (PDS) led by Aboulaye Wade. Holds 27 seats.

Ligue Democratique (LD), Marxist-leaning led by environment minister Abdoulaye Bathily. Hold three seats.

Parti de l'Independence et de Travail (PIT), Marxist-leaning led by Amath Dansokho. Holds two seats.

Union Democratique Senegalaise (UDS), a PDS breakaway led by Mamadou Puritain Fall. Holds one seat.

Japoo Liggueyal Senegal (Japoo), known as the "let us unite league" is an alliance of the And-Jef Parti pour la Democratie et le Socialisme, and the smaller Rassemblement National Democratique (RND) and the Convention des Democrates et Patriotes (CDP). Holds three seats.

Note: And-Jef is led by Landing Savane, a Casamance politician and the only leader of a an opposition party who has not held a government post. CDP leader Iba Der Thiam is spokesman for the collective of opposition parties.

Abidjan, 21 May 1998


[The material contained in this communication comes to you via IRIN West Africa, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN IRIN-WA Tel: +225 21 73 66 Fax: +225 21 63 35 e-mail: for more information or subscription. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this report, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. IRIN reports are archived on the Web at: or can be retrieved automatically by sending e-mail to Mailing list: irin-wa-weekly]

Date: Thu, 21 May 1998 18:27:31 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: Senegal: IRIN-WA Special Briefing on Elections in Senegal, 98.5.21 Message-Id: <Pine.LNX.3.95.980521182211.1514A-p://

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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