Mauritania’s President Wins ElectionsJune 23, 2014 in Mauritania
Despite his main rivals boycotting the elections, which they called a sham, preliminary results indicated late Sunday that Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has been re-elected after gaining an overwhelming 81.89 per cent of the vote.
The results, which were released by Mauritania’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Sunday, indicated that Abdel Aziz was firmly ahead of anti-slavery candidate Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, who obtained 8.67 per cent. Taking third place was Ibrahima Moctar Sarr, with 4.44 per cent of the vote, while the only female candidate, Lalla Mariem Mint Moulaye Idriss, took only 0.49 per cent.
In the weeks leading up to the elections, which were held Saturday, the former general, who seized power in an August 2008 coup, campaigned strongly, highlighting his successes in fighting armed groups linked to al-Qaeda militants both at home and in neighbouring countries in the Sahel region.
When Abdel Aziz came to power in 2008, kidnappings and attacks carried out by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) occurred frequently. In 2010 and 2011, Mauritanian troops carried out a number of successful “preventative” raids on AQIM basis in neighbouring Mali. However since then, the President has boasted that he has transformed the nation into a regional haven of peace, mainly thanks to his reorganization of the military and security forces.
While many Western leaders see Mauritania, which is located between the west coast of Africa and the Sahara desert, as a strong fighter against al-Qaeda-linked groups that operate in the region, the country’s opposition has long criticized the president, and has argued that this price of peace has been the result of authoritarian rule. In the weeks leading up to the elections, the opposition called on the country to boycott the vote. However tensions between the president and the opposition are not new as the main opposition parties have never accepted Abdel Aziz’s 2009 presidential victory, with many stating that that election was marred by massive fraud.
The National Forum for Democracy and Unity, an opposition coalition formed of eleven parties, including a moderate Islamist movement, called out to voters ahead of Saturday’s elections to denounce what they call Abdel Aziz’s “dictatorial power.” While the opposition’s hopes of attaining a high abstention rate were not achieved, the boycott did have some affect on the overall turnout. On Sunday, officials from the electoral commission indicated that voter turnout reached 56.46 per cent, below that of the 2009 elections, when participation stood at 64 per cent.
Despite a decrease in voter turnout, African Union (AU) observers indicated Monday that they were satisfied with the vote. The head of the AU mission, Beji Caid Essebsi, who is also Tunisia’s former prime minister, indicated “overall, this election took place peacefully and in a spirit of political tolerance…I welcome the civic sense among the Mauritanians.” He however also noted the boycott and urged that both political sides to seek dialogue in a bid to prevent any post-election violence.