Religious leaders are hailing Senegal’s presidential run-off election as a good example for democracy in Africa.

After a peaceful vote on March 25, President Abdoulaye Wade conceded defeat to opposition candidate Macky Sall, setting off wild celebrations across the country. It had widely been feared that Wade, who is 85 and has been president for 12 years, would cling to power. Wade had previously changed the constitution to run for a third term.

“What he (Wade) has done is rare and extraordinary and deserves public affirmation given the fact that the majority of African leaders continue the unsupportable habit of disregarding constitutional order,” said the Rev. Ishmael Noko, the President of the Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa (IAFPA) in a statement received by ENInews on March 28.

Senegal, located on the Atlantic coast, has generally been stable in a region often beset by military coups, election-related violence and long-serving heads of state. The official results on March 27 showed Sall, 50 years old and a former prime minister, won 66 per cent of the vote against 34 per cent for Wade. Sall will assume office on April 3.

“I would like to encourage that he (Sall) prevails as president for all Senegalese irrespective of their political persuasion,” said Noko, a former general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation.

Senegal had gone into the run-off after a general election on Feb. 25 failed to produce a clear winner. The election council had approved 15 candidates for the polls whose campaigns had been marred by violent clashes between supporters of Wade and those of the opposition. The violence had prompted faith leaders' to respond in the form of advocacy for peace and prayers.

Ahead of the vote, the Roman Catholic Church through the Justice and Peace Commission had appealed for peace. The Commission had reached out to citizens through social networks, personal contacts and door-to-door visits to encourage citizens to request a ballot without violence or fraud, according to news reports.

“I join in commending the religious leaders for their courageous stand and public statements calling on all political formations to embrace peace and refrain from using violence,” said Noko, reminding the faith leaders that they were not in the business of regime change or regime coronation.

In the capital of Dakar, Sheikh Saliou Mbacke, IFAPA coordinator, said religious leaders acknowledge that citizens are desperate for change and are hoping the new leader will improve living conditions.

“The general cost of commodities is very high. There were also perceptions that despite the difficulties people are having, some ministers and other officials in the outgoing regime were using public money for themselves,” said Saliou in an interview with ENInews.

According to Saliou, the increased campaign for the change was driven fear that a “monarchical devolution of political power” was being created. “Many thought he (Wade) was maneuvering to hand power to his son after winning the elections,” he said.

The Fides Catholic news agency also noted that the Senegal results were a good sign for Africa, especially after violence in Cote d’Ivoire and a military takeover in Mali.