President Abdoulaye Wade conceded defeat to his former protege Macky Sall last night, congratulating him several hours after polls closed when preliminary results showed the opposition candidate had trounced the 85-year-old incumbent.
Wade called Sall around 9.30pm to congratulate him on his victory, state television reported. The move alleviated fears that Wade would attempt to stay in office after 12 years or would challenge the runoff results.
Even before Wade conceded, Sall's supporters began celebrating in the streets of the capital, singing and marching through downtown Dakar. Some danced on the roofs of moving vehicles, and one man did a cartwheel amid the traffic near the Place de l'Independance.
Wade, who first took office in 2000, has seen his popularity suffer amid soaring costs of living and unemployment in this country on Africa's western coast.
His decision to seek re-election had infuriated many voters. Violent protests left at least six people dead, and analysts had warned of further unrest if Wade won.
Marieme Ousmane Wele, 55, said she had voted for Sall because the rising prices of basic goods have made her life increasingly difficult.
"I sell cereal made from corn but the price of corn has really gone up. Now, I don't have many customers and it's becoming difficult to feed my own family," she said, as men sat nearby on plastic lawn chairs in the sand listening to news about the election on portable radios.
On the streets of Senegal's capital, images of Wade on campaign posters had their eyes scratched out. And his convoy was hit by rocks in the final days of the runoff campaign.
Sall, 50, is a geologist by training who worked for years under Wade. The two, though, had a subsequent falling out and Wade has been describing Sall as an apprentice who has not yet taken in "the lessons of his mentor."
Wade's image began to suffer after he started giving an increasing share of power to his son Karim, who was derisively called "the Minister of the Sky and the Earth" after he was handed control of multiple ministries including infrastructure and energy.
The president also tried to rush a law through parliament that would have reduced the percentage a candidate needed to win on the first round from 50 to around 25 percent. He was forced to scrap the proposal after riots immobilized the capital.
Dr. Johny Assane said he voted for Wade in 2000 but has since become disillusioned. While he says he is financially secure, he has seen how others have failed to benefit from Wade's leadership.
"The situation of my patients who come to get medicine in my office has really deteriorated," he said. "Everywhere there are children whose parents are finding it difficult to pay for their treatment and that shows me that the country is not working."