DAKAR: Mr Macky Sall’s political career appeared to have peaked under Mr Abdoulaye Wade, where after serving as prime minister he fell from favour. On Sunday however, he replaced his former mentor as president.
Results were barely out on Sunday when a few hours after polls closed, Mr Wade phoned his former protege to congratulate him on his win, as exit polls showed his overwhelming lead.
Whereas Mr Wade had spent 25 years as an opposition leader before finally winning the presidency, Mr Sall won the country’s top political prize at his first attempt.
There was a time when Mr Sall, was widely tipped to get there under Mr Wade’s patronage: many observers thought he was being groomed to succeed the veteran leader.
But after a spectacular rise during which he occupied several ministerial portfolios before becoming prime minister, he fell from grace, quit the party and struck out on his own.
In the February 26 first round of the presidential election, a crowded field of opposition candidates led to fears in some quarters that Mr Wade would be able to win outright victory because of the divided competition.
Mr Sall did enough to ensure both that Mr Wade would not win outright — as the president had predicted he would — and that it would be he who faced him in the second-round run-off.
Although Mr Wade led in the first round, the combined weight of the opposition vote favoured Mr Sall — provided, of course, he could win their support.
Between the two rounds Mr Sall won the backing of his former rivals, for more than anything, the opposition wanted the 85-year-old president out of office.
Sall was born to a modest family in the western city of Fatick, to a civil servant father and a mother who sold groundnuts.
He graduated from Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University with a degree in geology, before heading to France to further his education in the field.
His father was a dedicated member of the Socialist Party which had been in power since independence, but Mr Sall says he quickly became disgusted with its misrule, joining the opposition in 1983.
Mr Sall was at Wade’s side when he finally unseated the socialists in the 2000 elections. A year later, the new president appointed him mining minister.
In 2003 he became minister of territorial administration and government spokesman before taking up the office of prime minister a year later.
Mr Sall led his mentor’s election campaign in 2007, but lost his spot as prime minister in the cabinet shortly afterward, though he went on to be elected speaker of the National Assembly.
A tall, plump man, Mr Sall is nicknamed ‘Niangal’ in the local Wolof language, referring to his closed, austere expression, while he comes across as naive.
But his entourage says appearances are deceiving.
"He is not as docile as he seems," said Mr El Hadji Wack Ly, a lawmaker with Wade’s ruling Senegalese Democratic Party.
"He is a firm man who keeps his word." In an interview with Mr Sall said that if elected, "several emergencies" loomed.
"Senegal is a democracy after all, with rules and laws," said Mr Sall, when asked about future implications for Mr Wade should he lose.