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7.29.2011

Senegal: will the Arab Spring travel South?

President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal has been talking about modifying the Constitution to extend his term in office, joining a long series of African “democrats” who came in as reformers but found presidential trappings to be quite comfortable. Wade, who was a longtime opposition leader, was originally elected to a seven year term, renewable once, under the prior constitution in 2000. Once he came to office, he adopted a new constitution that reduced the term to five year beginning after his term was to be completed in 2007; but upon securing a second term, he engineered amendments to return the term to seven. Now, with elections planned this coming February, he has sought to change the constitution yet again to introduce an office of Vice-President (who some think he wishes his son to fill) and to lower the first round threshold for victory from 50 percent to 25 percent of the vote. He has also argued that, since his initial term came under the prior constitution, he is eligible to run for a second term under the current constitution. If he succeeds, he would be in office until 2019, when he will be at least 95 years old! (He is officially the same age as Robert Mugabe, though there are rumors that he is in fact older.)

Wade is unusual in that older leaders tend to be a bit less likely to engage in term limit reform, according to our research on the topic. And his timing may have been poor in the face of the Arab Spring. Wide protests in Dakar prompted him to withdraw some elements of the proposal, though he allegedly still plans to run in 2012. Stay tuned to see if the Arab Spring travels South…

--TG

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