(Bloomberg) -- Senegalese President Macky Sall looks to be shoo-in for re-election on Sunday, touting one of the highest economic growth rates in West Africa and the completion of gleaming new infrastructure.
Since assuming office in 2012, Sall, 57, has managed to attract billions of dollars in investment, including from China, for his Emerging Senegal Plan and overseen average annual growth of about 6 percent. Projects such as highways, an express train for commuters and a new international airport in a city that’s being built from scratch to ease congestion in the capital, Dakar, feature prominently in his re-election campaign.
His four challengers include former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck and newcomer Ousmane Sonko, a one-time tax inspector who’s quickly gained popularity among young urban voters with criticism of France, which ruled Senegal until its independence in 1960. A second round will be held after a month if candidates fail to secure 50 percent of the votes in the first round.
“I would find it hard to believe that Sall won’t win the election, and probably in the first round,” said Martin Roberts, principal analyst with IHS Markit in London. “He has popular appeal given his track record in the last seven years.”
His government also built a crucial bridge for cross-border traffic over the Gambia river that connects Senegal with Gambia, a project that had languished since the 1970s, to cement improved ties with its much smaller neighbor since the ousting of Gambian strongman Yahya Jammeh two years ago.
While Sall has received international praise for his economic policies, critics accuse him of manipulating the courts and say his democratic credentials have been eroded by the exclusion from the vote of former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall, an opposition heavyweight until he was jailed for corruption last year.
Another opposition figure who isn’t allowed to run is Karim Wade, the son of ex-President Abdoulaye Wade, who had been put in charge of four ministries simultaneously by his father and was convicted on charges of illegal enrichment in 2015.
Sall defeated his former mentor Abdoulaye Wade seven years ago following massive protests against Wade’s bid to seek a third term. Some of those who led the protests that helped Sall win the presidency say they now feel betrayed.
“Senegal was the locomotive of democracy in Africa, and now we have moved back a thousand steps,” said Oumar Cyrille Toure, a co-founder of civil-society group Y’en a Marre, or French slang for “Enough is enough.”
Amnesty International deemed both trials unfair and has called on the government to halt the persecution of opponents.
The government has rejected allegations of political interference. Sall has strengthened democracy by backing a 2016 referendum that shortened the presidential term to five from seven years and enacted reforms to fight corruption, increase transparency and improve governance, presidential spokesman Seydou Gueye said in an email.
If re-elected, Sall has pledged to continue with his development plan and oversee a fair distribution of future income from oil and gas sales as the nation prepares to become an oil exporter. A string of major discoveries off the coast has attracted explorers including BP Plc and FAR Ltd.
Still, the rapid approval of a new oil code last month by the National Assembly underscores the lack of political debate in the country, said Babaly Sall, a political science professor at the Gaston Berger University in the northern city of Saint-Louis.
“The executive dominates everything and that is a problem,” he said.
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