Polling stations have opened in Senegal, where more than five million voters are expected to cast ballots in a presidential runoff between incumbent Abdoulaye Wade and opposition leader Macky Sall.
Thousands flocked to the polls in Dakar, the capital, and Fatick, Sall's home city, on Sunday with local reports suggesting a high turnout. In the region of Ziguinchor in southern Senegal, people queued up before polling stations had opened.
Both sides expressed confidence before voting started across the West African nation on Sunday, a month after a first round vote whittled the field down to two candidates.
Wade said that he was pleased that the elections were going well and urged people to accept the results even if he lost the election.
Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye, Wade's spokesperson, said that the 85-year-old president's Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) was “ready and more than confident” and “the voters are with us".
"There is only one possible outcome of this election, and that is we will win," he said.
Protests have broken out - in the streets outside the polling station Wade is expected to cast his ballot.
Protesters say that they are here to make sure that opposition supporters do not taunt and 'boo' Wade when he comes to vote.
Police shot teargas into the crowd who had refused to back down, but no casualties have been confirmed so far.
Meanwhile, El Hadj Kasse, Macky Sall’s spokesperson, said that his Alliance for the Republic (APR-Yakaar) party was "perfectly ready".
"We know we have completed an excellent campaign … [and are] extremely confident because everybody notices today that the Senegalese need change," he said.
Wade's candidacy prompted opposition protests and street clashes prior to the first round amid dismay over his decision to seek a third straight term, despite himself introducing a two-term limit.
Wade, president since 2000, argued that the term limit could not be applied retroactively, and was backed by the country's constitutional council.
In the first round of voting, he secured 34 per cent of the vote, while Sall managed to win 27 per cent. But 12 opposition parties have rallied behind the APR-Yakaar leader and former prime minister, appearing to give him an edge in the runoff.
After voting in Fatick, Sall said he hoped the ballot would reveal the people's will and that he hoped there would not be any surprises. He also called on supporters to refrain from making any announcements before elections officials did so and said he was satisfied with the transparency of the vote.
Analysts say that dissatisfaction with the economy, with almost half the population unemployed and about 60 per cent living in poverty, has boosted opposition to Wade's rule.
"Since 2007, growing unemployment, frequent power failures, high basic commodities prices and corruption eroded the popularity of President Wade and provided a platform for the emergence of civil society activists to challenge the regime," David Zoumennou, a senior researcher at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, said.
But Zoumennou said it was unclear whether Sall offered anything different.
"Fighting to stop Wade's ambition has been the main concern for the first round of the elections. But we can argue that, being the brain behind the economic liberalism under Wade, he is likely to pursue the same economic doctrine."
While Wade's opponents have voiced cautious optimism about the outcome of Sunday's vote, the incumbent, who spent 30 years in opposition prior to his election, continues to command a loyal supporter base.
"For 40 years this country was run by the same people, and let me tell you, they did nothing for this place. The little that has happened here [in Dakar] is only because of Wade," Sory Ba, a fisherman at the capital's Colobane market, told Al Jazeera.
Yassine Seck, 57, a fruit vendor concurs. She says that Wade's improvements to roads and public transport mean she gets an hour’s extra sleep every morning before going to market to sell her wares.
While observers and analysts have mostly ruled out fears of election violence and rigging, election officials are not taking any chances.
On Saturday, the head of the CENA election commission told a local newspaper that the two candidates had been banned from any premature declaration of the final results to avoid raising tensions in the country.
Much of the discussion in the lead up to the vote has revolved around speculation over the deals which Sall had made with other opposition candidates in order to gain their support.
Yoncouba Seydi, the spokesperson of Idrissa Seck, a frontrunner opposition candidate in the first round, said that Seck had agreed to support Sall as part of an earlier agreement to support the candidate that reached the run off with Wade.
"If Sall wins, Seck will resume his job as part of the opposition," Seydi said.
The head of the election commission said that results were likely to be released on Thursday, though unofficial results will filter throughout the evening over the airwaves from local radio stations.
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|Liaquat Ali Khan|