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Senegal may create VP post in 2012 election

Senegal's Cabinet has proposed changing the country's constitution to create the post of vice president in time for next year's election, making way for an automatic succession in the event of the president's death.

Senegal's opposition criticized the proposal issued late Thursday, saying it is a way for President Abdoulaye Wade to bring his controversial son into power without having to be elected by the people. Wade, who is 85, created a stir in 2009 when he announced plans to run for a third, extraconstitutional term.

Because of his age, many fear Wade will not live to the end of a new five-year term and his death in office could destabilize one of the few long-standing democracies in the region. A local court recently fined a doctor who publicly said that Wade is too ill to run for a third term, charging her with disrupting public order.

Although Wade has said that he has the energy to serve into his 90s, the president has delegated more and more power to his eldest child, Karim Wade, who is minister of state and who was recently also appointed minister of energy.

The younger Wade is deeply unpopular and is frequently criticized in opposition newspapers, where he has been accused of embezzling state funds. In 2009, he headed a slate of candidates in Dakar's municipal election which was trounced by the opposition.

"This initiative of Wade's is a new way to deform the constitution of our country," opposition leader Moustapha Niasse said. "This proposal conceals a process of succession, since what Wade wants is to create a mechanism that will allow him to stay in power by designating a successor."

The proposal needs to be voted on by the National Assembly. If adopted, it would mean that in the event of the president's death, the vice president would assume the functions of president, just like in the United States.

In the current system modeled after France, the country's colonial ruler, if the president dies in office, the head of the Senegalese senate becomes president for a brief period until the country can organize new elections.