MAURITANIA DECIDES IN FIRST ELECTION SINCE INDEPENDENCE IN 1960
– Williams Shekinah, ABH Press
Mauritania heads to the polls today in what may turn out to be the first democratic transition of power since the West African country gained independence in 1960.
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz seized power through a 2008 coup, but has decided to step down and abide by a two-term limit of office. More than a million people in the West African country are eligible to vote in Saturday’s election.
The country’s defence minister, Mohamed Ahmed Ould Ghazouani, a close ally of the current president, is the front runner among six candidates competing for the presidency, BBC West Africa correspondent Louise Dewast reports.
Opposition candidates are also taking part in a move seen as a positive step forward, after boycotting several previous polls.Former Prime Minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, and Biram Dah Abeid, a well-known activist and anti-slavery campaigner are among the other five candidates.
The country’s electoral commission has promised a free and fair election, despite the opposition claiming that it is biased in favour of the governing party. Mauritania’s press authority said on Friday that it had received no complaints about the coverage of the campaign.
The most critical issue on the campaign trail has been the standard of living, which every candidate has promised to improve. Slavery also remains an issue. Mauritania became the final country in the world to formally abolish slavery in 1981, but it continues to this day. Criminal laws allowing slaveholders to be prosecuted were passed in 2007, but have yet to be fully and effectively enforced.
After Mauritania gained independence from France in 1960, the country’s first president held power for 18 years before being ousted in a military coup. More coups followed in 1984, 2005, and in 2008.
A run-off election is due to be held on 6 July if no candidate receives at least 50% of the votes.