Senegal’s ruling coalition acknowledged defeat in two local polls seen as a key test of support ahead of an eagerly-awaited general election.
President Macky Sall’s alliance said it had lost the capital Dakar and the country’s largest southern city, Ziguinchor, in Sunday’s mayoral and local ballots.
The vote, seen as a litmus test for Sall, were the first in his West African country since deadly riots last year over the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
“Overall, the national trend shows our coalition winning easily in several regional capitals,” the ruling Bennoo Bokk Yaakaar alliance said in a statement on Sunday evening.
“But our bid to take Dakar and Ziguinchor has not been conclusive.”
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Final results have not yet been declared but the mayoral vote in Ziguinchor, capital of Casamance, appears to have been won by Sonko.
Sonko is seen as one of the main contenders to replace 60-year-old Sall in the forthcoming 2024 presidential election.
Sall was first elected in 2012 on promises to help the poor in the nation of 17 million people. He won a second term in 2019, beating Sonko, but has come under increasing criticism since then.
The president is accused of arranging court cases against his rivals. These include Sonko, who was summoned in March last year to answer charges of rape he said were politically motivated.
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The move sparked several days of violence in which at least 12 people died, shocking a country considered to be a beacon of stability in a volatile region.
The opposition fears that Sall will seek to exploit constitutional changes approved in 2016 to argue that a two-term limit for presidents does not apply, and run for a third term in 2024.
The president is well respected on the international scene, particularly over jihadist violence in the Sahel region, but his critics view him as serving the business interests of Senegal’s former colonial power France.
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