Senegal’s Bassirou Diomaye Faye takes early lead in presidential election

Opposition supporters take to streets in celebration but ruling coalition says a run-off will be needed to determine the winner.

Supporters of Senegalese presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye celebrate early results showing that Faye is leading initial presidential election tallies, in Dakar, Senegal, March 24, 2024 [Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]Published On 25 Mar 202425 Mar 2024

Supporters of Senegal’s presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye have taken to the streets of the capital, Dakar, in celebration as early results from Sunday’s vote showed the opposition contender in the lead.

The celebrations came as at least five of the 19 candidates in the race issued statements congratulating Faye on what they called his victory.

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But his main rival from the ruling coalition, former Prime Minister Amadou Ba, said the celebrations were premature.

“For our part, and considering the feedback of the results from our team of experts, we are certain that, in the worst case scenario, we will go to a run-off,” Ba’s campaign said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Faye.

Millions in Senegal took place in Sunday’s vote to elect the country’s fifth president. It followed three years of unprecedented political turbulence that sparked violent antigovernment protests and buoyed support for the opposition.

At stake is the potential end of an administration led by outgoing President Macky Sall, who is stepping down after a second term marred by unrest over the prosecution of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and concerns that the president 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 62-year-old Ba as its candidate.

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.

He and his colleague Diomaye have campaigned together under the banner “Diomaye is Sonko”.

About 7.3 million people were registered to vote in the country of approximately 18 million. Turnout was at about 71 percent, according to state television RTS.

Election day ran smoothly with no major incidents reported.

The first set of tallies announced on television showed Faye had won the majority of votes.

Jubilant crowds gathered in Sonko’s neighbourhood in Dakar, with supporters setting off fireworks, waving Senegalese flags and blowing vuvuzelas.

“This is really an unusual election,” said Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from outside Sonko’s home. “People are celebrating outside the home of a politician who is not even in the running – Ousmane Sonko. For the people here, the fact that this election even took place is a reason to celebrate. There has been so much pent-up emotion being released. On these streets just weeks ago, there were riots, demonstrators protesting for this election to take place.”

He added: “No one has claimed victory. The counting is still under way, but there are some notable candidates who have all congratulated Faye.”

They included one of the main contenders, Anta Babacar Ngom, who wished Faye success as leader of Senegal in a statement.

“Congratulations to Bassirou Diomaye Faye on his unquestionable victory,” she said on X.

It was not clear how many of the 15,633 polling stations have been counted so far.

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

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies