Is President Abdoulaye Wade Eyeing A Third Term?

August 25, 2011
4 mins read

On Monday, this week, the Senegalese media published comments by President Abdoulaye Wade, a few years ago, that he would not seek a third term in office in 2012. The publications were done in the wake of increasing unease in Senegal about Maitre Abdoulaye Wade’s plans. At the 2007 press conference, Wade had said “I set a limit of two terms (in the 2001 constitution). It is not possible. I cannot run again” for president in 2012. The interest in the comments from 2007 had been sparked by an announcement made by President Wade in September last year that he would seek a new term in the 2012 election. Wade had first been elected in 2000 to a 7-year term under the old Senegalese constitution, which was changed in 2001, and it set a limit for president to a two five-year term. He then won the 2007 election, which means that his non-renewable tenure should expire in 2012.

This seems to be the general understanding amongst political actors in Senegal. The opposition Socialist party, which ruled Senegal from independence in 1960 till its defeat in 2000, says that Wade would have served out his two terms by 2012. Pape Bemba Sy, a professor of law who helped draft the 2001 constitution also said “when we were drafting the new constitution, we had a political agreement that he would serve his first term of seven years (instead of five years) but all the other constitutional limitations would apply to him”. But the ruling Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), maintains that President Wade has only served one term based on the constitutional change to a five year-mandate. Prime Minister Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye said in a public speech this week, that “Wade as a candidate in the 2012 presidential election will be accepted as lawful”; further strengthening the feeling that the Senegalese president will defy the constitution, or more appropriately, trigger a constitutional crisis in 2012, if he eventually decides to present himself for re-election.

In an obvious attempt to straighten the constitutional hook on the route, Sheikh Tidiane Diakhate, who is considered a supporter of the president, was recently named the head of the constitutional council, the body which could ultimately decide on the legality of another mandate for President Wade. But it is clear that the potential candidacy of President Wade, will divide Senegal, with many observers wondering whether the 80-year old president will not be too old for the position, if he gets the constitutional council to legalize his bid by 2012. The VOA quoted Mamadou Diouf, the director of African Studies at New York’s Columbia University, as having expressed shock at the possible third term bid of Wade. Diouf said it is impossible to understand that a man over 80 will insist on running as an incumbent seeking a second term. “The first version of the constitution was saying that the president should be elected for two, five year terms. But two or three years later, the constitution was amended and the amendment actually created the confusion that people are fighting about now”.

Elements in the opposition have also been quoted as saying that the plan to run in 2012 was a constitutional coup d’etat which was aimed at ensuring that Karim Wade, the president’s son is groomed to take over from him as Senegalese president. President Wade denies that he is grooming the son, even though he has also said that Karim was qualified to run as presidential candidate in the future. “I have no intention of putting my son in my place before I go. But, he is a citizen of Senegal and he is free to stand in elections when he wants to”, president Wade said.

However, VOA quotes Professor Diouf as saying that President Wade was actually grooming Karim: “the political problem is that it seems he [President Wade] is running in order to restructure again the whole political system among the constitution to allow his son to succeed him”. The 41-year old Karim was appointed a minister in May, 2010 and is said to be an influential adviser to his father.

The groundswell of anger seems deep in Senegalese society about the performance of the government, with citizens constantly expressing anger at frequent power cuts. In May, the United States also told Senegal that a $540million aid grant depended on its fight against corruption, following several reports in the local media alleging graft at the high levels of government. Marcia Bernicat, the United States Ambassador said “the American people insist that their development dollars need to meaningfully improve the lives of the people of Senegal”. The ambassador added further that to maintain the funds granted as part of a program to reward countries for good governance, “countries must demonstrate positive policy performance and fight corruption”. Withdrawal of the aid could become a huge economic and political blow for President Wade; yet, Senegal generally enjoyed a better anti-corruption reputation than most of its West African neighbours. But the image was sullied last year, when there was an admission that cash gifts of some $172, 000 had been paid to an outgoing IMF official, Alex Segura, as well as a scandal over a telecom license, when a former head of telecommunication regulation was arrested on suspicion of embezzling funds from the award of a $200 million mobile license to Sudan’s Sudatel.

President Abdoulaye Wade was born on May 29, 1926, and is the third president of Senegal. He has led the ruling PDS party since its founding in 1974. A long-standing leader of the opposition in Senegal, Wade had run for president four times, starting from 1978, before he was eventually elected in 2000. Maitre Abdoulaye Wade studied in France and holds two doctorate degrees in law and economics and was formerly dean of law and economics at the University of Dakar, in Senegal.

It was in July 2008 that the Senegalese National Assembly approved a constitutional amendment increasing the length of the presidential term to seven years, as it was prior to the adoption of the 2001 constitution, according to Wikipedia. The extension of tenure was not to apply to Wade’s 2007-2012 tenure, but Justice Minister Madicke Niang had stressed on the occasion that Wade could potentially run for re-election in 2012, if he was still healthy. On September 17, 2009, President Wade confirmed that he planned to run for a third term in 2012, “if God gives me a long life”. The old man of opposition politics; distinguished lawyer and economist became president after four attempts; today he has been bitten by the bug of African rulers: the third term. Senegal will face uncertain times because of Maitre Abdoulaye Wade’s intention to run for a third term in 2012.

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