Senegal votes to end 40-year rule by socialist party

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It was the hunger for sopi - meaning "change" in the Wolof language - which yesterday ended the longest rule by a single party in Africa. In a textbook display of democracy,Senegal has ousted the socialist party after 40 years in power, and elected Abdoulaye Wade as President.

Even before the West African country's outgoing President, Abdou Diouf, conceded defeat yesterday morning, 74-year-old Mr Wade's supporters were dancing in the streets. "This is like a revolution started by the people," said one man in the capital, Dakar. There had been some violence during both rounds of the elections, said observers, but the poll was widely considered to have been fair.

Final results were not available yesterday but ballot-rigging, said one observer, had been rendered almost impossible by independent radio station reporters using mobile phones to transmit early results live from polling centres.

Mr Wade, who has pledged to reduce the presidential mandate from seven to five years and introduce a limit of two terms for the head of state, campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption and what he called the need to combat the cronyism which had come to dominate the socialists since they came to power at independence in 1960. Mr Diouf had been President since 1981.

Before disappearing on a two-day spiritual retreat yesterday, Mr Wade said: "The first great objective of my political life was to get rid of a system in Senegal. Another Senegal begins today. I'm happy to know that when I leave this earth I will have left behind a different Senegal to the one we've known."

Mr Wade, an economist who is married to a French woman and has spent much of his life in France, had stood in every presidential election since 1978.

He won 31 per cent of the vote in a first round on 27 February, while Mr Diouf won 41 per cent. Djibo Ka, an influential former socialist minister, backed Mr Diouf for the second round, but the other five first-round candidates stayed loyal to the idea of sopi, and backed Mr Wade.