Senegal's Early Vote Tally Indicates Runoff Ahead

Senegal awaits the results of the first round of Sunday's contentious presidential election. Unofficial tallies indicate a possible runoff between the sitting president and a former political ally. The vote was preceded by deadly violence — sparked by opposition to a third term bid by the West African nation's octogenarian leader.

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People in Senegal voted over the weekend, an election overshadowed by protests and violence. People managed to keep the actual voting mostly peaceful. Now, it looks like they'll have to vote again. A run-off seems likely in the election that features an 85-year-old president who changed the law in order to seek a third term. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: As President Abdoulaye Wade emerged after casting his ballot, he was clearly upset, then visibly annoyed as dozens of opposition supporters loudly booed him, shouting Gorgui na dem. Gorgui, his nickname, Old Man, na dem, go away. Old Man, go away.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: Senegal's 85-year-old leader normally loves to spar with journalists, switching effortlessly from French to English and to the local Wolof language. But he left the polling station without a word as his bodyguards pushed throngs of journalists out of the way to usher Wade to his car.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: At polling stations across Senegal, vote counting continued overnight, with early unofficial results pointing to a possible runoff vote between the president and his erstwhile prime minister and protege-turned presidential rival, Macky Sall. There's bad blood between Wade and Sall after a very public falling out in 2008 over accountability issues involving the president's son.

MACKY SALL: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Speaking at his campaign headquarters in Dakar last night, 50-year-old Macky Sall predicted his own victory and a second round, warning that the president's camp should be closely scrutinized.

Sall's jubilant supporters were already celebrating. They say they want change as do many voters in Senegal, like Amadou Diop, who insist Wade must go.

AMADOU DIOP: I lived abroad for almost 18 years and I just came back. And I think that this is a major step, you know. I can use my voice to make an impact. And I think we need a change. We need a change because a lot of people here are suffering. They need job. We need employment. We need more social activities for everybody.

QUIST-ARCTON: Voter Aminata Fall says it's important not to diminish Senegal's reputation for democratic distinction and stability in West Africa.

AMINATA FALL: We want peace in Senegal. We need peace, peace, peace, peace and peace forever.

QUIST-ARCTON: The president's bid for re-election triggered days of violent street protests after Senegal's top court endorsed Wade's third term ambitions last month. The U.S. and others have expressed concerns about security in Senegal, which is a regional hub and home to many international organizations. Political commentator Hamadou Tidiane Sy, from the website ouestaf.com, says the presidential election is a test of Senegalese democracy.

HAMADOU TIDIANE: If people manage to kick Abdoulaye Wade out of power - I'm sorry to use those words - at least one thing would be achieved. People would know the power of the people. And it means the next president would have to listen. And he would have either to deliver or would to quit probably after one term.

QUIST-ARCTON: If no single candidate wins the first round outright, Senegal's presidential vote goes to a runoff next month.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.

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