Senegalese Voters Hit the Polls to Choose Their Next Leader

Dakar — Senegalese voters are casting ballots after outgoing President Macky Sall’s attempt to delay the elections plunged the country into months of political crisis.

It’s a day many have been waiting for, including Jules Rolland Pascal Diatta. He was the first to cast his ballot in voting room number seven at a school about 30 minutes outside Dakar’s city center. He arrived two and half hours before the poll officially opened.

“I see that they are actually on time and open at 8 a.m. sharp. This is a very important election for me and everyone here. I like my candidate because he has a solid and well-defined program that I think could save Senegal,” he said.

He says he voted for the coalition led by Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

Faye, a former tax inspector, is backed by Ousmane Sonko — who was seen as the key challenger to outgoing President Macky Sall. Sonko was barred from running in this year’s elections over a previous defamation conviction. Both Faye and Sonko were recently released from prison.

Another voter, Ahmadou Khadim Lo, hopes for job creation to be the number one goal for the next leader.

“Seventy-five percent of the Senegalese population is young and many of them have diplomas but can’t find jobs,” he said.

A sentiment echoed by Khady Diagne who spoke to us before casting her vote.

“Living conditions are difficult here. The health care system is poor, there are no jobs, I could spend an entire year telling you about all the problems our country has,” she said.

About 17 candidates are vying for the top job, including former Prime Minister Amadou Ba, who is endorsed by Sall.

Seynabou Faye told us she wants a continuation of the policies of the current regime.

“I just love Macky Sall. He’s done more work than any other president before him. He’s built bridges, the Bus Rapid Transit system, stadiums, roads. I would like to see Amadou Ba win so he can work on some of Sall’s unfinished projects,” said Faye.

Ndoumbe Gueye is the head of voting room number 7 at the polling station in the neighborhood of Scat Urbam. She explained the voting process.

“Once a voter comes in, he or she shows me their national identification card first,” she said. “My team verifies that the person is registered, and this is the right place for them to vote. Then they can pick 5 out of the 19 candidates, pick up an envelope, and proceed to the voting booth. Their final choice can be inserted into the envelope and submitted. Once that’s done, they come back to us and dip their small finger in ink [to show they’ve voted].”

Observers from many organizations are also present, including some from the European Union which sent 100 observers all over the country. Malin Bjork, who heads the group which arrived in early January, held a news conference Sunday morning.

“What we’ve been able to observe is that the polling started on time with sometimes long lines, which shows that people are motivated and interested in voting. The material was in place and the rules were followed by all voting centers,” said Bjork.

Senegal has always been seen as a stable democracy in a region plagued by coups, until recently when President Sall tried unsuccessfully to postpone last month’s elections by 10 months. While Sall said he would not seek a third term, his critics accused him of wanting to hold on to power.

Whoever wins, today’s elections are a chance to maybe put those uncertainties to rest.

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