Fractured Opposition Contests Senegal's Parliamentary Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Senegalese voters are choosing a new parliament on Sunday as the ruling coalition is challenged by a fractured opposition that includes a 91-year-old former president and the imprisoned mayor of the capital, Dakar.

President Macky Sall’s coalition Benno Bokk Yakaar is one of 47 parties vying for 165 seats in a national assembly that’s been expanded to reflect a growing population. Fifteen seats have been allocated for the millions of Senegalese living overseas in a nation where remittances exceed aid or direct foreign investment. Sall’s coalition currently controls 119 seats in parliament.

Fractured Opposition Contests Senegal's Parliamentary Vote

The vote will serve to some extent as a test for the 2019 presidential elections, Adeline Van Houtte, a political analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, said by email.

“The opposition has failed to unite,” she said. Candidates for the ruling coalition “are in a strong position in most constituencies and they should be able take advantage of the divisions of the opposition and the mixed electoral system -- the leader of the polls in a department wins all its deputies -- and win a majority.”

Large Debts

The run-up to the vote was marred by fighting between supporters of the ruling party and Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall, who was detained on corruption charges in March but has yet to be heard by a judge. Sall, who denies the allegations and says his detention is politically motivated, sent an open letter from prison criticizing the cost of living and the government taking on large debts to fund infrastructure projects. The mayor is not related to Macky Sall.

Senegal is one of two countries in West Africa -- the other is Cape Verde -- that has never experienced a military coup. Its economic prospects have been boosted by offshore oil and gas discoveries, and the economy is likely to grow 6.8 percent this year, the most in sub-Saharan Africa after Ethiopia and Ivory Coast, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The vote also marks the political comeback of Abdoulaye Wade, who served 12 years as president before losing a 2012 election to his former protege Macky Sall and subsequently leaving the country. Wade’s son Karim was found guilty in 2015 of illegal enrichment committed while holding four ministerial portfolios under his father. He was released from prison when Sall pardoned him last year.