Voters in Senegal are set to elect a new parliament following a tense campaign between rival coalitions in an election seen as a crucial test of support ahead of a presidential election in 2019.
Polling takes place between 8:00am and 6:00pm local time (08:00 to 18:00 GMT) on Sunday, with first results due early Monday.
More than 6.2 million people in the west African nation are registered to vote.
Senegal’s President Macky Sall is seeking to bolster his parliamentary majority as he eyes a second term, while his 91-year-old predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade, attempts to drum up support for his own list of candidates.
Wade, who left office after corruption allegations led to violent street protests in 2012, returned from retirement in France earlier this month to run in the elections.
Dakar mayor charged with embezzlement
“We aren’t talking any longer about July 30, but of 2019,” said Prime Minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, who is running for a seat with Sall’s coalition, as he addressed a rally on Thursday.
Sall is not up for re-election until 2019, but he expects his coalition to perform well against a fractured opposition in this election, propelling him towards a second term.
Sall’s other main opponent, Khalifa Sall, is the mayor of Dakar and is currently in jail awaiting trial over embezzlement charges.
The mayor was seen as a key presidential contender and a potential threat to the president in parliament, until he was charged in March with allegedly misappropriating 1.83bn CFA francs ($2.85m) in city funds.
There are a record 47 lists of candidates contesting the election, with 165 politicians due to take seats in parliament.
Fifteen seats are being set aside for Senegalese expatriates – the first time that the country’s diaspora, estimated at 500,000 people, will have direct representation.
Protests ahead of vote
Ahead of the vote, Wade’s supporters protested to show their dissatisfaction with the current leader, Sall.
Police fired tear gas to disperse them and arrested dozens. Several people were injured in the country normally known for peaceful democratic traditions.
Campaigning was marred by tragedy on July 15, when eight people were killed as rival supporters clashed during Senegal’s football league final in Dakar. A stampede caused a wall to fall on escaping fans.
The failure to deliver enough new biometric ID cards needed to vote also caused unrest; hundreds of thousands of Senegalese have not received their cards in time.
The president asked Senegal’s constitutional council to relax voting rules so people without the cards could use passports or other forms of identification to cast their ballots, along with proof they had applied for the IDs.
Several political parties and opposition coalitions angrily denounced the last-minute move, saying it increased the possibility of fraud.
“We’re asking the Constitutional Council to not give Macky Sall and his regime the leverage to commit fraud,” Hassan Ba, Wade supporter, told Al Jazeera. “We will not accept fraud.”
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies