Mauritanian President in Re-Election Bid Amid Boycott

Mauritanians will probably extend President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s mandate in today’s first-round election as most opposition groups say they will boycott the vote because of concern it 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.

The opposition’s “main point is that it is not a fairly contested process,” Geoffrey Howard, an analyst for the North Africa region 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,” Howard said.

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.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time in the capital of Nouakchott today, with initial results due within hours of their scheduled close at 7 p.m., according to the electoral commission. A runoff will be held July 5 between the top two candidates if the first round doesn’t produce an outright winner.

The opposition coalition has said that Abdel Aziz didn’t include them in a transitional government that organized today’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.

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