Mauritania Holds Legislative Ballot Boycotted by Opposition

Mauritania will hold its first legislative and municipal elections since 2006 tomorrow that most opposition parties are boycotting because they believe the vote won’t be fair.

President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s Union for the Republic is expected to win a majority of seats because of the boycott by the Coordination of Democratic Opposition. There are 438 candidates competing for 147 seats in the national assembly, while more than 1,000 candidates are taking part in the municipal vote, the independent electoral commission said.

The opposition Rainbow party rejects the election because it says a majority of black Mauritanians don’t have voter cards. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters at the office of the electoral commission this week, according to the news website

Abdel Aziz led a 2008 military coup that ousted President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi a year after he was voted into office in elections international observers said were fair. Donors lifted sanctions following 2009 presidential vote won by Abdel Aziz. Mauritania’s population is estimated at 3.8 million.

Desert Locusts

Africa’s second-biggest iron-ore exporter is vulnerable to political instability, according to the World Bank. More than 100,000 refugees who fled fighting in neighboring Mali are living in Mauritania, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Mauritania’s food supply is also at risk because of desert locusts that are grouping there, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization said Nov. 20.

“Lingering questions about the legitimacy of past elections, domestic social tensions, and the rebellion in northern Mali all combine to create a high degree of political risk,” the World Bank said on its website.

Mauritania receives about 70 million euros ($94 million) from the European Union a year in return for fishing rights in its coastal waters that contain one of the world’s most important fish reserves.

State-owned Societe Nationale Industrielle et Miniere said last month it had discovered new iron-ore reserves estimated at 830 million tons. Tullow Oil Plc plans to drill for offshore oil reserves in Mauritania this year, while other companies including Kosmos Energy Ltd. are carrying out seismic surveys.

(Updates with threat of desert locusts to food supply in fifth paragraph.)
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