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Ageing President Wade appeals to supporters

By Sapa AFP | 2012-02-29 08:18:52.0

DAKAR - After days of predicting that he would win a third term with a crushing majority, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has now acknowledged that he may not have received enough votes to avoid a runoff.

The normally loquacious leader did not take questions and appeared subdued on Monday as he met reporters for the first time since Sunday's contentious election, which was preceded by weeks of protests calling for the leader's departure.

Reading from a prepared statement, Wade said that with more than half of the vote counted, he was leading 13 other candidates with 32.17%. He needs more than 50% to avoid a runoff.

Experts say that for the 85-year-old to remain in power he needed to win on the first round when the opposition was split between multiple candidates.

In a runoff, his chances of winning are much slimmer because the opposition will be united behind a single contender.

"To all of my supporters, my allies, my sympathisers, I ask that you remain mobilised because at this very hour, the trend from votes counted in 282 out of 551 districts - or half the vote - give me the lead with 32.17% to 25.24% for my nearest opponent," Wade said. "So everything is still possible - victory, or a runoff."

This nation of more than 12-million on Africa's western coast is considered one of the oldest and most robust democracies on the continent, but for weeks daily life has been up-ended by protests calling for Wade to resign.

Analysts have warned of further unrest if Wade wins, and the spectre of more violence has eroded the image of a nation seen as a model of stability.

As votes were being tallied yesterday, leading opposition candidate Macky Sall declared that a runoff was "inevitable".

Sall told the country's private radios that he had won both the capital and several major towns in the interior, though he said neither he nor the president had received the majority needed to avoid a second ballot. Wade had angered the opposition in the days leading up to the vote by saying he would win on the first round with "a crushing majority".

He was loudly booed when he came to his home precinct to vote on Sunday, and his bodyguards quickly led him inside the polling booth after a mob surrounded him.

While he was inside voting, they began to chant the chorus of a song composed by a group of anti-Wade rappers: "Old man, get lost."

It's a sad chapter in the career of a man whose election 12 years ago was met with euphoria.

A former opposition leader, Wade spent 25 years from 1974 to 2000 trying to topple the socialist party that ruled Senegal for 40 years after the country's independence from France in 1960.

His victory in 2000 was held up as an example of Senegal's democratic maturity, because the former president gracefully accepted his loss.