- A party that led Senegal to independence and ruled the country for over 40 years is disintegrated by a long standing leadership crisis. As a result, a key political figure of the party, Robert Sagna, coined a new party and declared his candidature for the 25 February Presidential election.
Mr Sagna, a long time Mayor of the Casamance regional capital Ziguinchor, officialised his candidature for the election under the banner of his new party, the Democratic Solidarity.
He has decided not to wait for the outcome of a mediation council set up to end leadership deadlock in the formerly ruling Parti Socialiste du Sénégal (PSS). Three prominent party figures - Ousmane Tanor Dieng, Robert Sagna and Mamadou Diop - all had expressed their intention to vie for the party's ticket.
The council, chaired by Abdul Khadre Cissokho, could not douse the leadership problem of the party after it had conducted individual dialogues with the three officials. Mr Cissokho described the deadlock as a "very serious democratic challenge," which had never before surfaced in Senegalese politics.
Robert Sagna backed his decision to split from the party. He said it was done because he is better qualified than his contenders.
"On 25 February, I will request the votes of all the Senegalese to continue my efforts with the service of Senegal which I serve since always," he declared, defending his reasons not to join Ousmane Tanor Dieng.
"Sincerely speaking, I am a better candidate who has the potentials to offer more chances to Senegalese and to the party than Tanor. And I said that to Ousmane Tanor Dieng. I had said to him that I will not postulate for the post of First Secretary of the party, because the renewals are not finished. On the other hand, I had asked him to give up his candidature for the presidential elections," Mr Sagna said.
He said his split has sounded bell that the party is living with troubles. Nonetheless, he said, "we are in the socialist party. We are basically socialists and we did not give up the values of socialism."
Asked why he had pulled at a time when negotiations were still going on, Mr Sagna said he had not totally closed the doors of dialogue.
Mr Sagna homeowner added that he was wondering why the party was trying to defend the candidature of Ousmane Tanor Dieng without justifications. But it was murmured from some quarters that Mr Sagna might have been propelled by the ruling party officials to split from the PSS ranks, a claim he flatly denied.
State President Abdoulaye "Wade is neither behind nor in front of my candidature. I am not an easy man to handle. And I think time has come for us to sweep quickly Wade and his policies. That is why I have put up my candidature to combat his policies."
Mr Sagna said he had rejected President Wade's offer to appoint him the Vice President. "I refused, because if I were to enter the government I was not to be alone because I belong to a party. To leave this party for [President Wade's ruling party, the] PDS would be treason." He blamed the ruling party officials for defending personal interests instead of fulfilling their promises to the nation.
Mr Sagna hails from Senegal's minority Jola people, which has been in conflict with the government for the independence of Senegal's natural resources opulent region, the Casamance. Opponents of Mr Sagna might campaign against him by telling electorate to refuse him because would prefer to secede the region.
But Mr Sagna said that issue is not on his agenda because he believes in permanent peace in Casamance, which equally means peace in Senegal.
It remains to be seen whether Senegal, a deeply Muslim society, will accept to vote in office another Christian President. Senegal's founding father, Leopold Sedar Senghor, was a Christian who took the country to independence and ruled the country for several years. Though Christian, Mr Sagna is loved by many Muslim clerics who see him as a unifying factor in his province.
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