By Mark John and Diadie Ba -
SENEGAL’S Macky Sall has leapt back from the political wilderness with a crushing presidential run-off victory over incumbent Abdoulaye Wade that cements the West African country’s reputation as a stable democracy in a restive region.
Sall is a one-time prime minister who served under Wade but in 2008 lost favour with the outgoing octogenarian president known as “The Hare”, a local symbol of cunning. At one point, Sall seemed condemned to political obscurity.
But the 50-year-old geologist — whose campaign symbol was a horse’s head — immediately hit the road to amass support for a presidential bid which paid off when his ex-boss conceded defeat in Sunday’s election.
“When I was crossing the country, I saw the enormity of the challenges ahead,” Sall said in a campaign interview at his home in the Atlantic Ocean resort of Saly.
“While those in power built monuments and motorways, ordinary Senegalese were struggling to get access to drinking water, healthcare and education,” Sall said in a dig at Wade’s 2010 “African Renaissance” monument, an edifice bigger than New York’s Statue of Liberty that towers over Dakar.
As poll returns overnight showed him ahead of his rival, Sall accepted fellow liberal Wade’s admission of defeat and pledged to be “president of all the Senegalese” in a gesture to the left-leaning voters who backed him in the run-off.
A full 35 years younger than the outgoing president, Sall embodies the generational change in Senegalese politics which several foreign governments from Paris to Washington had urged Wade to allow by not standing for a third term.
Despite some early violence by those opposing Wade’s third-term bid, the election and its result appeared to consolidate Senegal as an oasis of stability in a region plagued by flawed elections and conflict, such as last week’s military coup in Mali.
Sall has promised his first steps will include moves to cut the prices of basic foods, end a long-running teachers’ strike and draft a constitutional reform reinforcing a two-term limit for both him and successors.
But a decade of past membership of Wade’s ruling PDS party, and personal wealth that includes the Saly villa and other property, means Senegalese will watch Sall’s performance keenly for a true break with 12 years of Wade rule that failed to tackle poverty or corruption.