Recent Referendum in Mauritania


The Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, seized power in a Coup d’état on 6th August 2008 and was elected President on 18 July 2009 for a term of 5 years. He was elected again on 21 June 2014 for a second five-years term. He organised a contentious referendum on 4 August 2017 to abolish the Mauritanian Senate which he considers to be interfering with his authority and replace it with regional Council which he can easily control, as well as merging the Islamic High Council and national Ombudsman into a High Council of the Fawa. During the election campaign, Ould Abdel Aziz did not explain what kind of legislative power regional Council will have and if this body will get material resources to manage local affairs and implement policies.

Abolishing the Senate, which in fact supported most of his policies, is a very dangerous act. This policy will backfire on him.

The referendum he called was also about the revival of Mauritanian nationalism. President Ould Abdel Aziz proposes to change the national flag by adding a red band at the top and bottom to symbolize “the sacrifices that the people of Mauritania will commemorate, the price of their blood in defending their country” as well as modifying the national anthem.

A proposal in the referendum to allow him to run for a third term— which he can not do under the present Constitution — was dropped after violent protests but he promised to hold additional referenda in the future to carry out his reforms.

Mauritania has never had a peaceful transfer of power since independence from France on 28 July 1960.

Ould Abdel Aziz says the abolition of the Senate which he described as “useless and too costly” will improve governance and democracy in Mauritania.

The opposition concern is that the vote is a ploy to increase Ould Abdel Aziz’ power and abolish the present Constitution so that he can stand again for Presidential election in 2019 and follow other African leaders of more than a dozen African countries including Algeria, Uganda, Cameron, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt and more recently Rwanda and Congo Republic.

The election campaign was violent, protest leaders were reportedly beaten up and many of them were arrested. The authorities did not respond to the opposition requests for authorization for the protests and dispersed all gatherings by excessive force throughout the campaign. Also, the opposition was not given time in the National Media calling for a boycott.

Even after the referendum result, any opposition or criticism is met with an iron fist. Indeed, on 12 August 2017, President Ould Abdel Aziz ordered the arrest of the outspoken Senator Mohamed Ould Gadda without any explanation, and his parliamentarian colleagues have called for his immediate release.

Ould Gadda’s Lawyer, Ahmed Salem Ould Bouhoubeini, requested the authorities release his kidnapped client. He has also written to International human rights organisations seeking their help.

Ould Abdel Aziz’ proposal of institutional reforms would simply strengthen even more his presidential power.

Like all African regimes, the Mauritanian political system led by Ould Abdel Aziz and other presidents before him hinges on tribal interest groups in the defence of the regime and the army.

Mauritania’s relations with most of its neighbours namely Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad have improved a little recently due to continued terrorism activities in the region, but there is no investments or assistance to Mauritania. Only Algeria gives Ould Abdel Aziz financial support in return for a strong support to the Polisario movement, but no investment in Mauritania. However, Algeria is also in financial difficulties due to the drop in oil and gas income and have recently imposed taxes on imported good.

Because of high-level government corruption and terrorism activities in the region, there is very little foreign investment coming into the country at present.

His relations with Morocco have deteriorated significantly during the last few years, this is due to his support to the Polisario movement and because he blamed Morocco for an assassination attempt on his life on 13 October 2012.

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