After doubts, Senegal's president admits defeat

Senegalese opposition presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Macky Sall (C) leaves the polling station after casting his vote on March 25, 2012, in Fatick. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

(AP) DAKAR, Senegal - President Abdoulaye Wade conceded defeat to his former protege Macky Sall late Sunday, congratulating him several hours after polls closed when preliminary results showed the opposition candidate had trounced the 85-year-old incumbent.

Wade called Sall around 9:30 p.m. Sunday to congratulate him on his victory, state television reported. The move alleviated fears that Wade would attempt to stay in office after 12 years or would challenge the runoff results.

Even before Wade conceded, Sall's supporters began celebrating in the streets of the capital, singing and marching through downtown Dakar. Some even danced on the roofs of moving vehicles, and one man did a cartwheel amid the traffic near the Place de l'Independance.

Sociologist Hadiya Tandian said that Wade's concession washes away the wounds of a violent election season, which left at least six people dead and tarnished the country's reputation.

"This is a great victory for Senegal — it shows the maturity of our democracy," Tandian said. "It shows that the Senegalese believe in their voter IDs, that a voter card can change something, can make a difference. It shows that our long democratic heritage continues to live in us day by day."

Wade, who first took office in 2000, has seen his popularity suffer amid soaring costs of living and unemployment in this country on Africa's western coast.

He spent 25 years in the opposition fighting to loosen the grip of the former socialist party, which ruled this former French colony for 40 years since independence in 1960.

His image began to suffer after he began giving an increasing share of power to his son Karim, who was derisively called "the Minister of the Sky and the Earth" after he was handed control of multiple ministries including infrastructure and energy.

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Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade (C) arrives on February 27, 2012, for a public declaration at the presidential palace in Dakar.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Wade's reputation took a nosedive when he announced last year that he planned to run for a third term. For weeks leading up to last month's election, protesters calling for Wade to step down hurled rocks at police in demonstrations that paralyzed the capital's economic heart.

Marieme Ousmane Wele, 55, said she had voted for Sall because the rising prices of basic goods have made her life increasingly difficult.

"I sell cereal made from corn but the price of corn has really gone up. Now, I don't have many customers and it's becoming difficult to feed my own family," she said, as men sat nearby on plastic lawn chairs in the sand listening to news about the election on portable radios.

On the streets of Senegal's capital, images of Wade on campaign posters had their eyes scratched out. And his convoy was hit by rocks in the final days of the runoff campaign.

Sall, 50, is a geologist by training who worked for years under Wade. The two, though, had a subsequent falling out and Wade referred to Sall as an apprentice who had not yet taken in "the lessons of his mentor."

Earlier Sunday, Sall expressed confidence that Senegal would avoid a protracted electoral dispute.

"Our country is a strong democracy ... That's what should be praised, that the vote goes through peacefully and calmly," he said.

Most voters simply spoke of change rather than Sall's credentials when explaining how they voted Sunday.

Dr. Johny Assane said he voted for Wade in 2000 but has since become disillusioned. While he says he is financially secure, he has seen how others have failed to benefit from Wade's leadership.

"The situation of my patients who come to get medicine in my office has really deteriorated," he said. "Everywhere there are children whose parents are finding it difficult to pay for their treatment and that shows me that the country is not working."

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