Mauritanians will probably extend President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s mandate in tomorrow’s first-round election as most opposition groups say they will boycott because of concern the vote won’t be fair.
Abdel Aziz, 58, of the Union for the Republic faces four candidates, including independent Ibrahima Sarr, 65, and Lalla Mariem Mint Moulaye Idriss, 57, the second woman to run for the highest office. A coalition of 11 other opposition parties, including the Islamist party Tawassoul, pulled out of the election, citing a breakdown in talks with the government. Initial results are due within hours of polls closing.
The opposition’s “main point is that it is not a fairly contested process,” Geoffrey Howard, North Africa analyst at Control Risks Group, said by phone from London. This is an attempt to “give a cloak of democracy to what is essentially a pretty authoritarian regime.”
Abdel Aziz, who has positioned himself as a Western ally in the fight against Islamist militants, led a 2008 military coup that ousted Mauritania’s first elected president, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi. Abdel Aziz won the 2009 elections against Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, who said the vote was fraudulent. Mauritania is Africa’s biggest exporter of iron ore after South Africa.
The opposition coalition has said that Abdel Aziz didn’t include them in a transitional government that organized tomorrow’s elections. Sarr has called for equal rights in Mauritania, where as many 160,000 of a population of 3.8 million people are enslaved, according to the Global Slavery Index.
“Western powers want a stable Mauritania and know that stability is tied to a democratically elected government,” Ba Abdallahi Mahmoud, a Nouakchott-based independent analyst, said by phone.
Thousands of Mauritanian soldiers and law enforcement officers are voting today so they can patrol tomorrow while the rest of the country’s voters go to the polls.