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“After more than a decade in office, Abdoulaye Wade is apparently so desperate to cling on to power that he has to hire a foreign law firm to conjure up legal ‘facts’ that the plain language and intent of the Senegalese constitution and the relevant amendment’s legislative history would not otherwise support.”

After 11 years in power marked by numerous corruption scandals as well as the spiraling cost of basic goods, Mr. Wade is facing stiff resistance. There is growing concern about his age. He is officially 85, but many believe he is at least five years older because children are often registered late in Senegal to give them more time at home to work in the fields.

And then there is the question of his son. Since being elected, Mr. Wade has given an increasing share of power to Karim Wade, who now controls the lion’s share of the country’s budget, and diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks reveal that the U.S. Embassy is concerned that he is preparing a “dynastic succession.”

It has brought Senegal, viewed by many as a model of stability, to a crossroads. Mr. Wade himself spent 25 years as the country’s top opposition leader, criticizing the authoritarian bent of the former Socialist administration.

Former U.S. Ambassador Herman J. Cohen, who served in Dakar from 1977 to 1980, remembers Mr. Wade as an idealist who dreamed of transforming his country. Mr. Cohen says that he is saddened by what he sees now.

“I am surprised. When I met him, he was idealistic. He wanted to do good for Senegal, and maybe when he got into office, he realized that the whole system was so corrupt that maybe it’s just better to take care of No. 1.”