Mauritania Nears Democratic Transition with Historic Presidential Election
Mauritania vote 'free and fair'
By: BBC News
March 12, 2007
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The first round of the presidential election was held on March 11, 2007, in Mauritania, marking “the first fully democratic poll since independence in 1960.” The vote was witnessed by about 300 international observers from the EU, African Union, and Arab League, who deemed it “free and fair.” This successful election continues the country’s transition to democracy after a military junta took power in a bloodless coup in 2005 and promised to institute reform and democracy.
No candidate received over 50% of the vote needed to avoid a second round, but two top candidates, Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdellahi and Ahmed Ould Daddah, both garnered over 20% and are expected to face each other in the second round. Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdellahi was a minister in the former authoritarian regime that ruled Mauritania for 21 years and, although he is running as an independent, some believe that “the military-transitional government has, at least implicitly, given its backing to [him];” furthermore, he “is believed to be supportive of both the political elite and the current regime (The Economist)." Inversely, Ahmed Ould Daddah is “a long-standing opposition figure,” who was often at odds with the former authoritarian regime.
Mauritania was ruled for 21 years by President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, who had come to power in a military coup in 1984. Political parties were banned in the country during the first years of Sid'Ahmed Taya’s reign, but were legalized in 1991; the parliament, however, continued to be dominated by Sid'Ahmed Taya’s former political party and he won reelection to the presidency in 2003. The Military Council for Justice and Democracy took control in 2005 and pledged to organize democratic elections and relinquish power to elected officials within two years. In June 2006, Mauritanians approved a new constitution which limits the tenure of the President to two terms.
Although now term-limited, “the president is still expected to be the dominant political force until political reforms become more firmly established (The Economist)." Nineteen candidates were in the race to become president, though only two will go on to face each other in the second round on March 25th.