Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade backed down on a proposed change to the country’s electoral law on Thursday after the bill sparked running clashes between riot police and protesters in the capital.
Wade’s rivals said the proposed change would have guaranteed his re-election against a fragmented opposition in a February poll and had threatened a popular uprising over it in a country long seen as an island of stability in West Africa. Analysts said the reversal showed how effectively the opposition and civil society groups could mobilise anti-Wade sentiment amid simmering social tensions.
Despite the concession, protesters and members of the security forces, using tear gas and water cannons, continued to fight cat and mouse battles around the presidency and parliament. Rubbish and several vehicles burned in the streets.
Government spokesman Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye said that the president had “listened to the Senegalese people, development partners and religious leaders” and decided to keep the present electoral system where a candidate needs more than 50 percent of the vote to win in the first round.
The proposal had been to drop that figure to 25 percent — a level Wade’s rivals said would have virtually assured him a first-round win against his fractured opposition.
“It is a first step but I am waiting to see the final outcome of the text. We will maintain the mobilisation,” leading opposition leader Macky Sall told Reuters.
Wade is also seeking to create the position of vice president — a proposal that remains in the bill.