DAKAR: Senegal on Sunday voted in parliamentary elections the opposition hopes will force a coalition with President Macky Sall and curb any ambitions he may hold for a third term. Sixty-year-old Sall, who was elected in 2012 for seven years then re-elected in 2019 for another five, has been accused of wanting to break the two-term limit and run again in 2024.

He has remained vague on the subject, but any defeat of his supporters in the vote could upset such plans. Polling stations opened at 0800 GMT and close at 1800 GMT. By late morning, turnout appeared relatively low, according to AFP correspondents and observers.

In Scat Urbam, a suburb near Dakar, far fewer voters than in past polls were waiting to cast their ballots. The situation was the same in the capital's working-class district of Grand Medine as well as in Ziguinchor, capital of the southern region of Casamance, according to AFP journalists.

At the start of voting in the courtyard of a school in Mbao, near Dakar, around 100 mostly elderly people were preparing to vote. Police were also on hand to ensure security, an AFP journalist said. "I hope voting day goes off peacefully and there are no disputes," said Lamine Sylva, a 60-year-old artist.

"It's like football-there is a winner and a loser." Yahya Sall, a retired soldier, said he hoped the new parliament "will have a strong opposition presence... to advance democracy". The national election commission has deployed 22,000 observers nationwide.

The single-round ballot will decide the 165 seats of the single-chamber parliament-currently controlled by the president's supporters-for the next five years. Lawmakers are elected according to a system that combines proportional representation, with national lists for 53 lawmakers, and majority voting in the country's departments for 97 others.

The diaspora elects the remaining 15 members of parliament. This year, eight coalitions are in the running, including Yewwi Askan Wi (meaning "Liberate the People" in Wolof), the main opposition coalition. Its highest-profile member, Ousmane Sonko, came third in the 2019 presidential election. But he and other members of the coalition have been banned from running in Sunday's elections on technical grounds.

The vote is taking place against a backdrop of rising prices, in part because of the war in Ukraine. The opposition has questioned the priorities of the government, which has highlighted its subsidies for oil products and food as well as infrastructure building.

"Is the priority of the Senegalese to build beautiful stadiums, new highways while people are not eating to satiate their hunger?" Sonko said after casting his ballot in Ziguinchor. Raising the alarm over reports of low turnout, he called on voters to vote in numbers "to balance the powers".

Opposition collaboration

Ahead of the poll, Yewwi Askan Wi has joined forces with Wallu Senegal (which means "Save Senegal" in Wolof), led by former president Abdoulaye Wade. The two groups have agreed to work together to obtain a parliamentary majority and "force governmental cohabitation".

They also want to force Sall to give up any hope of running in 2024. In local elections in March, the opposition won in major cities, including the capital Dakar, Ziguinchor in the south and Thies in the west. Sonko and other members of the Yewwi Askan Wi coalition were forbidden from running in Sunday's elections, after the authorities in early June tossed out its national list of candidates on technical grounds.

One of the names had been accidentally put down both as a first-choice candidate and as an alternate candidate, thus invalidating the entire list. That sparked violent demonstrations that left at least three people dead. On June 29, the opposition finally agreed to take part in the elections, easing tensions. - AFP