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Senegal opposition candidate Faye leads initial presidential election tallies

2 min

The first polling station tallies of Senegal's delayed presidential election on Sunday showed opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye taking the lead, prompting street celebrations after a peaceful day of voting that many hope will bring change.

Supporters of Senegalese presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye celebrate early results showing that Faye is leading, in Dakar, Senegal, March 24, 2024. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

The first polling station tallies of Senegal's delayed presidential election on Sunday showed opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye taking the lead, prompting street celebrations after a peaceful day of voting that many hope will bring change.

Millions lined up to elect Senegal's fifth president following three years of unprecedented political turbulence that sparked violent anti-government protests and buoyed support for the opposition.

At stake is the potential end of an administration that has pushed investor-friendly policies but failed to ease economic hardship in one of coup-prone West Africa's more stable democracies.

Voters had a choice of 19 contenders to replace President Macky Sall, stepping down after a second term marred by unrest over the prosecution of firebrand opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and concerns that Sall wanted to extend his mandate past the constitutional limit.

The incumbent was not on the ballot for the first time in Senegal's history. His ruling coalition picked former prime minister Amadou Ba, 62, as its candidate.

The election day was smooth with no major incidents reported. Polls closed at 1800 GMT, after which voting bureaus started publishing their tallies.

The first set of tallies announced on television showed Faye had won the majority of votes, triggering widespread street celebrations among opposition supporters in the capital Dakar.

About 7.3 million people were registered to vote in the country of around 18 million. It was not clear how many of the 15,633 polling stations had finished counting.

Final provisional results are expected by Tuesday. A second round of voting will take place if no candidate secures the more than 50% majority required to prevent a runoff.

Sonko, in jail until recently, was disqualified from the race because of a defamation conviction. He is backing Faye, the co-creator of his now dissolved Pastef party, who was also detained almost a year ago on charges including defamation and contempt of court.

An amnesty law passed this month allowed their release days before the vote. They have campaigned together under the banner "Diomaye is Sonko". Some high-profile politicians and opposition candidates have backed Faye's candidacy.

"The population is choosing between continuation and rupture," Faye said after casting his vote, urging contenders to accept the winner.

'DIOMAYE IS SONKO'

Sall, first elected in 2012, is leaving office after a drop in popularity that deepened when authorities sought to postpone the vote to December. It was initially scheduled for Feb. 25.

The move stoked unrest and concerns about authoritarian overreach, prompting Senegal's Constitutional Council to rule that the vote should go ahead before the end of Sall's mandate on April 2.

After voting, Ba called for peace and said he wished for the Senegalese people to find out their next president soon and resume their daily lives.

Faye has promised to root out corruption, restore stability and prioritise economic sovereignty, appealing to the urban youth frustrated by a lack of jobs in a country where 60% of the population is younger than 25.

But some of his pledges, such as plans to renegotiate oil contracts just as Senegal is due to begin offshore oil and gas production, have raised concern over the country's image as a destination for investors.

By Diadie Ba

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