Monday, April 2, 2012

Senegal 2012 Presidential Poll: Lessons for Nigeria

"On this day, the 25th of March 2012, at 9:27 p.m., President Abdoulaye Wade, a candidate in the presidential election, called President Macky Sall to congratulate him for having won the election and to wish him good luck in his mission at the head of Senegal in the hopes that he will render the Senegalese happy. In this way, Senegal, through a transparent election, has once again proven that she remains a great democracy, a great country." – Spokesman to outgoing President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye.

Following the precedent established by his predecessor in office, President Abdoulaye Wade last Sunday, March 25, after a bitter but peaceful run-off presidential election, conceded defeat to his protégé and former Prime Minister Macky Sall who had defeated him by a margin of 65.80 percent to 34.20 percent. This rare gesture was first exhibited by former Senegalese President, Abdou Diouf on March 19, 2000 after the presidential runoff between him and the incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade. Diouf had ruled Senegal for two decades like his predecessor and first president of the country, Leopold Senghor. Macky Sall will be Senegal’s fourth president since getting her independence from France in 1960. It is pertinent to take few reactions to the heart-warming development in Senegal which happened to be the only country in West Africa yet to taste the bitter pill of military coup even though Wade was accused of orchestrating a constitutional coup by reneging on his promise not to do more than two terms.

According to our President, Goodluck Jonathan, Macky Sall’s election is a “victory for democracy and just reward for all Senegalese people who kept faith in the democratic process and voted responsibly in what has proved to be a watershed election. The Senegalese people have confirmed that theirs is a mature democracy built on freedom and respect for rules and laws. If there was ever any doubt, this election has proved that the foundation of Senegalese democracy is rock solid. This is good for the Senegalese people and also for our sub-region, especially at a time one of our brother countries is facing grave challenges to constitutional order,” AU Commission chairman Jean Ping said the peaceful conduct of the presidential elections "proved that Africa, despite its challenges, continues to register significant progress towards democracy and transparent elections". To President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, the poll signifies “good news for Africa in general and for Senegal in particular".

A runoff became imperative after Wade fell short of the majority needed to win in the first round on February 26, taking 34.8 percent of the vote. Sall, a 50-year-old who served as Senegal’s prime minister from 2004 to 2007, won 26.6 percent. Sall’s landslide victory in the run-off was made possible by a number of factors. One is Wade’s many political and economic ‘sins’ among which were his attempt to rush a law through parliament that would have reduced the percentage a candidate needed to win on the first round from 50 to around 25 percent; decision to seek a third term in office; rising costs of living; high unemployment and increasing share of power to his son Karim, who is mockingly tagged "the Minister of the Sky and the Earth" after he was handed control of multiple ministries including infrastructure and energy.

The second major factor is the formation of a coalition called Benno Bokk Yakaar, or Grouping of Forces for Change in the Wolof language. This alliance consists of 12 of the 14 candidates who ran in the first round. It brought together civil-society groups that organized the anti-Wade protests, such as Y’en a Marre and Mouvement 23, as well as Grammy award- winning singer Youssou N’Dour, whose candidacy was invalidated by the Constitutional Court on a technicality. This is a lesson for Nigeria’s opposition parties. If the other contestants in Senegalese presidential elections did not throw their weight behind and mobilize their supporters to vote for Mack Sall, his dream of winning would have been a mirage, a pipedream. This is what Nigeria’s opposition parties failed to do during the 2011 presidential polls. They were too fragmented and egocentric to unite against the Peoples Democratic Party which many of them alleged has not performed creditably well in fulfilling many of its electoral promises.

Even though there was pre-election violence during which six people were alleged to have died and about 150 people injured, Senegal did not witness any significant Election Day and post Election Day blues. Observers, both local and international reported an orderly and peaceful poll. This is exemplary and due largely to the maturity of the out-going President Abdoulaye Wade. There was no official report that Wade used the coercive power of the state to repress the opposition candidates. He didn’t get them framed up or kidnapped. Even during the month long protest against his candidacy, the Senegalese police were said to have used only tear gas and rubber bullets, not live bullets. This is very instructive. That Wade didn’t pressurize the Senegalese electoral commission to manipulate the outcome of the election in his favour is very commendable. The fact that he accepted defeat and called to congratulate his former Prime Minister also makes him a statesman in my estimation. He could have rejected the result of the election, like Laurent Gbagbo did against Alhassane Quatarra in Cote D’ Ivoire, and plunge the oasis of democracy into avoidable chaos.

Senegal has also once again joined the league of countries like Liberia (in 2005, George Weah vs. Ellen Sirleaf), Niger, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire where the candidate that led in the first ballot lost to the opposition during the second ballot or run-off. As Nigeria embarks on a new constitutional alteration, our lawmaker should adopt a French model of first-past-the-post or majoritarian electoral system for executive offices like that of the President, Governor and Local Government chairmen. In a French majoritarian electoral system, a candidate needs to score 50+1 vote or absolute majority to become an outright winner. At present, in Nigeria, once a candidate scores 25 percent of votes cast in two-third of his constituency, he or she becomes a winner even if the cumulative vote is less than half of the total vote cast. If the Senegalese had adopted our own model, Wade would have won because he led other 13 candidates in the first ballot.

The new Senegalese president has his job cut out for him. As he gets sworn into office in April, he must endeavour to fulfill all of his campaign promises which include shortening the presidential term to five years from the current seven, and enforcing the two-term limit. He must not also forget his pledge to evolve strategies to reduce the price of basic foodstuffs as well as tackle rising unemployment and poverty in the land of the Teranga Lions. Senegalese must hold him to account on his promise to repair the damages done to Senegal's institutions by reinstating the checks and balances between the presidency, legislature and judiciary — which have become consolidated under Wade. Lastly, he must find the political will to deal with the conflict in Casamance region which has been going on for thirty years.