Early results have radical change candidate ahead in Senegal election | Senegal

Senegal’s anti-establishment candidate appears to be closing in on victory in the country’s presidential election, an outcome that could steer the west African state in a radical new direction.

Early results show opposition candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye ahead, prompting several rivals to publicly concede defeat.

However, his principal rival, Amadou Ba, who represents the ruling administration, dismissed such reports as premature and said he expected a runoff vote to decide the victor.

Triumph for Faye could precipitate a systemic overhaul in Senegal, including a profound redrawing of its relationship with former colonial power France.

Promising voters radical change, Faye wants Senegal to cease using the CFA franc – the west African single currency pegged to the euro with the financial backing of the French treasury – which critics deride as a relic of colonialism.

The 44-year-old has also promised to renegotiate huge mining, gas and oil contracts signed with foreign companies. Senegal is due to start hydrocarbon production later this year, a development that has brought hopes of future – and much needed – wealth for the country.

By contrast, Ba represents the administration led by the widely criticised president Macky Sall who has failed to ease economic hardship in one of coup-prone west Africa’s more stable democracies.

The UN World Food Programme says 39% of Senegalese live in poverty.

Anger towards Sall mounted further when he abruptly cancelled the elections to replace him seven weeks ago – before being forced to backtrack in the face of widespread protests.

“The population is choosing between continuation and rupture,” Faye said on Sunday after casting his vote.

Hours later, as the first results began to trickle in, hundreds gathered at Faye’s campaign headquarters in the capital Dakar, singing and dancing to the sound of drums and vuvuzelas.

Young people on motorbikes drove around the city chanting “to the (presidential) palace”.

The scenes of jubilation were all the more remarkable because Faye, a senior official in the Pastef party led by the popular Ousmane Sonko, had only been released from jail days earlier.

Sonko, who was disqualified from the vote because of what he claims are politically motivated charges, has a large following among Senegal’s vast youth population.

More than half of the country’s population is under the age of 25, with many sharing concerns over unemployment and poverty.

Official results from Sunday’s vote – which was conducted peacefully – are expected at some stage this week. Early results from individual polling stations published late on Sunday by local media showed Faye clearly ahead of Ba.

An absolute majority is required for any of the candidates to avoid a runoff.

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