The Mauritanian presidential election 2019

The Mauritanian presidential election of 22 June 2019 was won by ruling party candidate and former Defence Minister General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, an ally of outgoing President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. On 1 July 2019 the Constitutional Court ruled that Ghazouani had won by 52% of the votes cast. He was elected for a five-year term of governance in this West African nation threatened by Islamic extremism. The candidates in the Mauritanian presidential election and their scores in the election are as follows:

1. Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, 483,312 votes (52.01%)
2. Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, anti-slavery activist, 172,656 votes (18.58%)
3. Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, former prime minister, 166,058 votes (17.87%)
4. Kane Hamidou Baba, journalist, 80,916 votes (8.71%)
5. Mohamed Ould Mouloud, historian, 22,695 votes (2.44%)
6. Mohamed Lemine El Mourteji El Wafi, 3,676 votes (0.40%)

According to Mauritanian news media, 100 international monitors had observed the elections and the African Union Election Observer, which comprises 35 observers, as well as foreign embassies in Mauritania reported that the election had been run in a fair and satisfactory manner.

Mauritania: background

Mauritania became independent from France on 28 November 1960 under the official name of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Moktar Ould Daddah, the first Mauritanian to graduate from a French university, became the country’s first president. He ruled from 1961 until he fell out of favour with the military and was overthrown in a military coup led by Mustafa Ould Salek on 10 July 1978. Since then Mauritania has seen four more coups d’état, the last one carried out on 6 August 2008 by Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz who was at that time the head of the presidential guard. He overthrew the elected president Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (19 April 2007 to 6 August 2008). Ould Abdel Aziz said he did so to prevent a return to repressive military rule.

Mauritanian presidents from independence to the present
1. Moktar Ould Daddah, 28 November 1960 to 10 July 1978
2. Mustafa Ould Salek (first coup d’état overthrowing Ould Daddah) 10 July 1978 to 3 June 1979
3. Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Louly (coup d’état) 3 June to 4 January 1980
4. Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla (coup d’état) 4 January 1980 to 12 December 1984
5. Maaouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya (coup d’état) 12 December 1984 to 3 August 2005
6. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall (coup d’état) 3 August 2005 to 19 April 2007
7. Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, democratically elected president 19 April 2007 to 6 August 2008
8. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (coup d’état) 6 August 2008 to 15 April 2009
9. Ba Mamadou Mbré, caretaker president, 15 April to 5 August 2009.
10. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, elected president 5 August 2009 to 22 June 2019
11. General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, elected president 22 April 2019—

Who is the newly elected President, General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani?
Ghazouani was born in Boumdeid, Assaba region, on 31 December 1956. His father was a leader of the Sufi Maraboutique tribe of Ideiboussat and he was educated at local Sufi school. He married and has five children.
   Ghazouani joined the Mauritanian army in 1970s and like President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz he was educated at the Moroccan Royal Military Academy in Meknés and received a Diploma in Military Administration and Sciences. On his return home, he became an ally of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and was his partner in the overthrow of the elected President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in 2008. He was also a member of the military council that overthrew former President Maaouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya in 2005.
From 2008 to 2018, Ghazouani was head of National Security and chief of staff of Mauritania’s armed forces. In October 2018, President Ould Abdel Aziz named him Minister of Defence.
   On 1 March 2019, General Ghazouani announced his candidacy for the presidency and on 15 March he resigned as defence minister to prepare for the election.
   During his presidential campaign he pledged to unify the country and build strong institutions, and strengthen the fight against corruption and terrorism. He also promised to carry out economic reforms, invest in education, health and housing, create more jobs for the people and empower women. However, he said nothing about eliminating domestic slavery, which affects 90,000 people in the country, and on how he aimed to establish a consensus among different ethnic and political groups and the army in Mauritania as well as curbing corruption. Many rich businessmen and companies in Mauritania supported his election campaign financially and they expect to receive preferential treatment from public officials, which allows them to grow their business. Businessmen and companies that do not give financial support expect to receive less preferential treatment. In fact, other candidates in the Mauritanian presidential election have complained to the Mauritanian Electoral Commission. The truth is that, throughout Africa, public officials and police forces are not well paid, therefore a certain amount of bribery and corruption, as long as it is controlled, is seen as good for the local economy and often regarded as part of the service.
   The swearing-in ceremony for the newly elected president is planned for 1 August 2019 and many African presidents and representatives from other countries are expected to attend.

Mauritania under Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz
Former president Ould Abdel Aziz served two five-year terms, the most the constitution allows. He ruled with an iron fist and is likely to continue to play a major role in Mauritania. During the election campaign, he said that he intended to pursue development projects and other activities inside and outside the presidency and might even stand for the presidency again in future.
   During his 10-year term, Ould Abdel Aziz had to deal with various terrorist attacks in the country led by Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The biggest attack was on a military garrison at Lemgheity on 5 June 2005. According to the Ministry of Defence press release, this attack resulted in the death of 15 members of the security forces and injury of 17 more, with two missing. Nine terrorists were killed.
Terrorist activity continues to threaten the country, as well as the six Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria. The number of attacks faced by these countries was 163 by January 2015, a figure that had risen to 781 in May 2018.
The main groups who carry out terrorist activities belong to Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeer (JNIM). JNIM was formed in March 2017 following the merger of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar-al-Dine and al-Murabitun.
   In addition to the impact of terrorism, Mauritania has faced severe economic problems since 2015, following the drop in the global market price for iron ore and gold, which is the country’s key mineral export. Thanks to economic support from the Gulf, Abdel Aziz managed to deal with the situation.

Relationships with Mauritania’s neighbours
Ould Abdel Aziz has maintained excellent relations with his neighbours – the Sahel countries, Algeria and the Gulf monarchies (except for Qatar). When Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Qatar and imposed a land, sea and air embargo, Mauritania too cut all ties with Qatar and received financial support from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Ould Abdel Aziz also gave full support to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman after the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. However, relations with Morocco have deteriorated significantly since Ould Abdel Aziz became president of Mauritania. For example, King Mohamed VI has visited and developed excellent business relationships with many African countries, but not Mauritania. When the election result confirmed General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani as President, Mohamed VI congratulated him warmly and the new president has invited the king to the swearing-in-ceremony on 1 August. Mohamed VI does not attend swearing-in-ceremonies but he will certainly send his brother, Prince Moulay Rachid, or the Prime Minister.

Conclusions
One should congratulate Mohamed Ould Aziz for respecting the Mauritanian constitution and setting a precedent for other African leaders by standing down at the appointed time. However, it remains to be seen if the new president will be his own man or be dominated by Ould Abdel Aziz and the military brass. Ghazouani campaigned on the themes of his predecessor: continuity, solidarity and security. Political parties believe that this election will not end the military’s iron grip and autocratic rule in Mauritania.
   It is hoped that civil society and political parties will unite against the greatest threat to Mauritania’s democracy and end military rule in Mauritanian politics.

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.