DAKAR - At a time of coup contagion in the subregion, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a 44-year-old former tax inspector, will be Africa’s youngest democratically elected head of state. And judging by his policy promises — which include reforming the euro-pegged CFA currency system — Senegal could be headed towards a divergent relationship with France.

The uproar when incumbent President Macky Sall delayed the initial election date in February, triggering fears of a constitutional crisis, has given way to street parties. Young Senegalese started cheering on Sunday night before voting ended, even as Faye’s main rival and governing party candidate Amadou Ba hoped for a second round.

Winning the contest in the first round and at his first attempt suggests Faye is a popular candidate whose 18 competitors never stood a chance. In reality, Faye owes his rise to 49-year-old Ousmane Sonko, Senegal’s best known opposition politician. Sonko has been the government’s loudest critic since finishing third in the 2019 elections when Sall was re-elected. His political machine tapped into youth disillusionment over Sall’s struggle to solve an unemployment crisis that has accelerated a deadly migration-by-boat wave to Europe.

Faye met Sonko during their time as tax officials, and joined the latter in politics after the political party PASTEF was formed in 2014, according to Faye’s campaign biography, climbing to the role of general secretary. Chosen to inherit this movement after Sonko was disqualified from running for the presidency, Faye will enter the top job as a relatively unknown politician. “Diomaye is Sonko” was his campaign’s slogan in the lead up to Sunday. But it will be Faye who takes the oath of office when Sall leaves on April 2. As Sall himself put it while congratulating Faye, “it is the victory of Senegalese democracy.”