Mauritania, a predominately Arab country that straddles North and West Africa, will hold legislative and local government elections on November 23 (first round) and December 7 (second round), which will be the country’s first full elections since 2006. These elections will replace officials of the national assembly and local governments (i.e. communes) who have continued to carry out their duties even though their elected terms ended, constitutionally, in 2012. Since gaining independence from France, Mauritania has had a turbulent history: the country’s first president and university graduate, Moktar Ould Daddah, who assumed power in 1960, was ousted by a military coup in 1978. Subsequently, Mauritania was rocked by several additional coups: in 1979, 1980, and 1984. In 1984, a general-cum-president — Maaouya Sid’ Ahmed Ould Taya — asserted control and constructed a dominant regime party, le Parti Républicain Démocratique et Social (PRDS). Akin to Egypt’s National Democratic Party, the PRDS dominated Mauritanian politics for the next 21 years until 2005, when Taya was deposed in a putsch led by two of his closest military advisors, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Ely Ould Mohamed Vall.
Working with a committee of other generals, Abdel Aziz and Vall pledged to democratize Mauritania and enhance its stability. They held elections in 2006 to form the legislature and communes, and also scheduled a presidential election for 2007. The elections were deemed free and fair, and the presidential contest featured vigorous competition between Mohamed Ould Sidi Cheikh Abdallahi, a World Bank economist, and Ahmed ould Daddah, the brother of Mauritania’s first president. The military split in its loyalty for the two candidates during the 2007 presidential election: Abdel Aziz backed Abdallahi, whereas Vall supported Daddah. In a near electoral tie, the former defeated the latter and became Mauritania’s first president after the 2005 coup. A consensus developed among policymakers, academics, and other observers that Mauritania was the Arab world’s first case of democratization, creating hope that it might be a bellwether for other states.
Mauritania’s experiment with democracy was short lived, however. In August 2008, President Abdel Aziz removed his elected predecessor in a surprise coup. Speculations swirled about Nouakchott, Mauritania’s capital city, that Abdel Aziz had orchestrated Abdallahi’s electoral success to facilitate his own eventual rise to power. The Arab League and African Union condemned the military’s ouster of the elected, civilian government. Once he solidified his control, Abdel Aziz pledged to authenticate his rule by election. He did this in a 2009 presidential election, which was non-competitive, largely symbolic.
Postponed several times since Abdel Aziz’s coup, Mauritania’s upcoming legislative and local elections will be the first full elections held since 2006. The stakes and significance of the elections are high. Two parties, allied closely with Abdel Aziz, are poised for victory. These parties are the Union Pour la République (UPR) and a second youth-oriented party, the Parti du Sursaut de la Jeunesse (or Mobilized Youth for the Nation). Created in 2008, the UPR was Abel Aziz’s party for the 2009 presidential election. In 2011, Lalla Mint Cherif, minister of culture, youth, and sport as well as a close ally of the president, founded Mobilized Youth. Observers speculated that the regime tasked Mint Cherif to form Mobilized Youth to rival, divide, and weaken Mauritania’s youth protest movement, the February 25th Movement. Signaling his support for these two parties, Abdel Aziz recently told close associates that his “heart” favors Mobilized Youth for the election, while his “mind” is with the UPR.
Full Article: Mauritania Votes – By Matt Buehler | The Middle East Channel.