DAKAR, Senegal – Hundreds of people filled the streets of Dakar outside the airport Monday to welcome former Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade, who returned to lead his party into legislative elections after spending years abroad following a failed bid for a third term in office.
The 91-year-old flew into Dakar Monday from Paris, accompanied by his wife, Viviane. He retains a strong support base in Senegal, which is holding parliamentary elections this month.
Wade has returned to head up the list of candidates for his opposition Senegalese Democratic Party. He is also heading up other opposition parties that are working together to obtain a majority in Parliament, and Wade's return is viewed as key to that effort.
Security was tight as supporters eagerly awaiting his arrival held up signs and cheered him. Wade waved from the sunroof of a car, dressed in blue and gold boubou with a white scarf and black hat.
"With his return, we have a better chance of winning the legislative elections. We can win the elections," said Moustapha Mbaye, a young supporter who was on hand to welcome the former president.
Wade last returned to Dakar in April 2014 as his son, Karim Wade, was to face trial for charges of corruption and illegally accumulating fortune. Authorities canceled a rally that was to welcome him then, citing security concerns.
Karim Wade, a former Cabinet minister, served half of a six-year prison sentence and moved to Qatar after being freed in 2016. The younger Wade's supporters said his 2015 conviction was evidence of a personal vendetta against the family. The Wades have dismissed the charges as politically motivated.
Wade became president in 2000, but his reputation as a rare African democrat crumbled in the months before the 2012 election amid criticism that he was giving increasing power to his son. Senegal was rocked by street protests that paralyzed the capital during the election. Demonstrators called for Wade not to seek a third term.
Wade ended up losing to current President Macky Sall in the 2012 runoff and withdrew abroad.
Senegal on July 30 will elect 150 deputies to Parliament. If Wade's party wins more than 75 seats, it will be a majority. Some critics have claimed he may have his party propose an amnesty law for his son so he can run for president in 2019.
President Sall's popularity is up and down amid complaints he hasn't done enough to improve the lives of ordinary Senegalese.
Prime Minister Mohammed Dionne has said that Sall's party seeks a majority to pursue projects initiated during his term for Senegal's development.
In March, Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall — who is not related to the president — was arrested and charged with embezzling public funds, charges he denies. The mayor is a popular figure in Senegal and a likely opposition candidate for the 2019 elections. His lawyers have called the arrest an attempt to prevent him from running in this month's legislative elections.