Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Senegal

Period of democratic transition: 2000–2001
Pro-democracy civic movement: not present

Although Senegal escaped the military or harshly authoritarian rule that many of its neighbors have experienced, true democratic rule has also been elusive, as the Socialist Party (PS) has dominated the nation's political life through patronage and electoral manipulation since its independence from France in 1960. President Leopold Senghor exercised de facto one-party rule under the PS for more than a decade after independence. Even in 1974, when three other political parties were permitted to operate freely, Senghor remained in power through blatantly biased electoral proceedings. In 1981, Abdou Diouf succeeded him as leader of the PS. Changes to the electoral code made in 1992 lowered the voting age to 18, introduced secret ballots, and created a nominally fairer electoral framework. But Diouf's victories in both 1988 and 1993 were still widely discredited as being unfair and undemocratic.

Nonetheless, four decades of rule by the PS came to an end when veteran opposition leader and law professor Abdoulaye Wade of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) defeated Diouf in presidential elections held in March 2000. Wade was able to defeat Diouf in these polls – the first ever in Senegal's history to go to a runoff – by consolidating opposition political support unavailable to him in the first round. Less than a year later, in January 2001 the people of Senegal adopted by an overwhelming majority a new constitution that reduced presidential terms from seven to five years, set the number of terms at two, and for the first time gave women the right to own land. Wade soon dissolved the impotent National Assembly, and free and fair legislative elections were held in April 2001.

Wade's PDS has maintained control of Senegal since 2001 and has governed peacefully even while President Wade has often been accused of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

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