Update on Mauritania’s Legislative and Municipal Election Results

On 15 September, Mauritania held the second round of its simultaneous legislative, municipal, and regional elections, following the first round on 1 September. Jeune Afrique has a good breakdown of the key outcomes here; most importantly, the second round saw the ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) increase its number of parliamentary deputies from 67 in the first round to 89 overall, out of 157 total seats in the assembly. UPR also extended its domination of Nouakchott’s communes, going from 5/9 before the elections to 6/9 afterwards. At both the legislative and the municipal level, the Islamist party Tewassoul was in second place, sometimes in coalition with the HATEM party. According to official estimates, turnout fell from 75% in the first round to 55% in the second round.

Some of the municipal results can be found here. Picking almost at random (someone should write a paper on these data, they’re fascinating), a few patterns stand out:

  • Sometimes Tewassoul and UPR really ran neck and neck. For example, in the commune of Aouleiygat in the region of Trarza, Tewassoul won by fewer than two hundred votes – and the ultimate outcome was 9 seats for Tewassoul, 8 for UPR. Jeune Afrique notes this pattern as well.
  • Again, I’m struck by Tewassoul’s ability to compete far beyond Nouakchott – here is a commune in Al-Hodh al-Gharbi, Devaa, where they edged out UPR 10 seats to 9. There are many places where Tewassoul obtained no seats, and UPR has wider representation overall, but Tewassoul is not just a Nouakchott-based party by any means.
  • The UPR-Tewassoul rivalry is not at all the whole story of the elections – even together, their vote share in the first round was under 50%. In the municipal elections, UPR was beaten out in many communes by other parties. One example is Moudjeria in Tagant, where the Democratic Renewal Party won 7 seats to UPR’s four.
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An Update on Mauritania’s Legislative Elections (First Round)

Mauritania held the first round of its legislative, regional, and local elections on 1 September (see my previous post on the topic here). A second round is scheduled for 15 September. Following the abolishment of the country’s Senate in last year’s referendum, Mauritania has a unicameral National Assembly with 157 seats.

Final results did not appear until 8 September, which caused some outcry in the country. The ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) won 67 seats this round. The second-best scoring party was the Islamists, Tewassoul, who received 14 seats – a loss of two seats, actually, over its numbers from 2013 parliament.

Let’s go into a bit more detail with the results. At the Independent National Electoral Commission’s site, you can find three sets of legislative results – results for the national party lists, for women’s seats, and for departments.

Within the national party list results, here is the breakdown by percentage of the vote:

  • UPR: 19.47% or 136,809 votes
  • Tewassoul: 11.28% or 79,283 votes
  • Then you have parties that received less than 5% of the vote, or between 1,000 and slightly over 30,000 votes. In descending order, the third- through seventh-place finishers were: Union for Democracy and Progress (UDP), Karama, National Democratic Alliance Party (AND), Union of the Forces of Progress (UFP), and the Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD).

The percentages and order are roughly equivalent for the women’s list, although UPR’s and Tewassoul’s percentages were slightly higher on that one (19.6% and 12.6%, respectively).

At the departmental level, a few basic patterns appear:

  • In Nouakchott, the capital, Tewassoul edged out UPR, 13% to 12.6%.
  • In some places, such as Kaedi (map), UPR’s numbers were much higher than for the national lists (here, 30% of the vote), while Tewassoul’s share collapsed (here, to 3.6%, and that was in coalition with another Islamist party) and other parties took the second-place spot (here, UPD). Nevertheless, one should not conclude that Tewassoul’s appeal is limited to Nouakchott – they remained the second-place finisher even in eastern areas like Aïoun. UPR did very well, though, in the far east, in places such as Néma.
  • Some parties are hometown favorites – Karama, for example, was the first-place finisher in M’Bout (map).

In short, UPR did well enough across the country to stay in the fight everywhere, and in some places it was far and away the dominant force.

Partial Results from Mauritania’s Legislative, Regional, and Municipal Elections

I’ve been waiting all week for definitive results from Mauritania’s recent elections, which included simultaneous legislative, regional, and municipal contests. Obviously, and in a much more urgent sense, Mauritanians have also been waiting for the results – and the slow pace of announcements has elicited complaints and protests, as well as accusations of fraud. The Independent National Electoral Commission (French acronym CENI, as in many other West African countries) is under some “pressure” from the opposition.

A few pieces of context. First, these elections come in advance of next year’s presidential contest. The biggest question in Mauritanian politics now is whether incumbent President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz will seek a (currently) extra-constitutional third term. Last year’s constitutional referendum, which made a combination of symbolic and structural changes to Mauritania’s political system, was seen in some opposition quarters as a step toward changing or removing constitutional provisions regarding term limits. Second, in terms of the present elections, it’s worth noting that last year’s referendum abolished the Senate – so voters are selecting deputies for a unicameral legislature now.

In terms of results, various counts have indicated that the ruling party (Union for the Republic, or UPR) and the Islamist party the National Rally for Reform and Democracy (Tewassoul) are leading the pack. Here is one count from 6 September showing that with nearly 62% of the votes counted (2,518 out of 4,080 polling offices), UPR has obtained 18.2% of the vote and Tewassoul 10.7%. No other party hits double digits in that count. Another count from 4 September, pertaining just to the parliamentary deputies’ list in the capital Nouakchott, shows that with 84% of the votes counted (551 out of 655 polling places), UPR has gotten 13% while Tewassoul has gotten 12.85%.

If these results hold, there are a few obvious takeaways:

  • The political landscape is fragmented. When and where the contest goes to a second round (scheduled for 15 September), it will be interesting to see how the dust settles.
  • To compare apples to oranges, Tewassoul has so far improved on its performance in the 2009 presidential elections, when its candidate Jamil Mansour scored less than 5% (Tewassoul boycotted in 2014).
  • To compare oranges to oranges, though, UPR and Tewassoul were the top two parties in the 2013 parliamentary elections. In comparison with 2013, both UPR’s and Tewassoul’s share of the first-round vote has fallen, but UPR’s has fallen more.

Hopefully complete results will be out soon, which will permit a more thorough analysis.

AFP has a short clip of the proceedings:

Quick Preview of Mauritania’s Upcoming Legislative Elections

Mauritania will hold legislative, regional, and municipal elections on 1 September, with a runoff scheduled for 15 September. The official campaign period began on 17 August. The ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) is, of course, campaigning for an extension of its dominance.

RFI (French) has written a little on the campaign of the Islamist party, Tewassoul, which was legalized in 2007, participated in the 2009 presidential elections, and boycotted the presidential elections of 2014. Tewassoul, at its party congress in December 2017, replaced longtime leader Jamil Mansour (who stepped down due to internal term limits) with former cabinet minister and current deputy Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Seyidi. This display of internal party democracy was no accident – Tewassoul is keen to make the case, implicitly and explicitly, for its democratic bonafides, and is also keen to draw a contrast with UPR and the incumbent president, Mohamed Ould Abd al-Aziz, in case he ends up running for an extra-constitutional third term next year

Thus far, Ould Abd al-Aziz has not publicly stated any wish for a third term, although some of his allies and supporters are publicly encouraging such a move. Cynical observers saw last year’s constitutional referendum as a kind of testing-the-waters effort in the direction of a third term bid. Now, the opposition (including Tewassoul) is working to make the legislative elections a referendum on the specter of a third term.

VOA (French) has a bit on the campaign of the opposition Rally for Democracy (RFD), led by Ahmed Ould Daddah, longtime presidential aspirant and brother of Mauritania’s first president. Ould Daddah has denounced the “dictatorship” of Ould Abd al-Aziz and the UPR.

Here are a few important websites:

  • Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI): http://www.ceni.mr/
  • UPR: http://upr.mr/fr/
  • Tewassoul: http://tewassoul.mr/

The Shooting of President Mohamed Ould Abd al-Aziz Revisited, in a Mauritanian Courtroom

In October 2012, Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abd al-Aziz was shot and wounded at a checkpoint by a soldier. He was flown to France for medical treatment and recovery, and returned home some six weeks later. Mauritanian authorities stated that Ould Abd al-Aziz had been accidentally shot by a soldier who did not realize the president’s identity. Coming as it did just four years after the coup that brought Ould Abd al-Aziz to power, and moreover coming in the waning phase of a protracted conflict between Mauritania and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the incident raised more than a few eyebrows at home and abroad.

Recently, the dispute has resurfaced over what exactly happened at that checkpoint. This month, a trial began for Mohamed Ould Ghadda, a former senator and opposition member originally arrested in August 2017, just after last summer’s constitutional referendum (which he had opposed). Some more background on his arrest and charges can be found here. Ould Ghadda’s arrest also occurred in the context of the presidency’s charges against businessmen Mohamed Ould Bouamatou (see some background on that here).

The first session (Arabic) of Ould Ghadda’s trial was 9 August in Nouakchott, the capital. One central topic of the initial proceedings has been Ould Ghadda’s role in disputing the official story concerning the shooting of Ould Abd al-Aziz. In 2017, Ould Ghadda disseminated a video where a soldier named Mbarik (my transliteration), reportedly the companion of the soldier who fired on Ould Abd al-Aziz, cast doubt on numerous parts of the official story.

I have had some trouble reconstructing exactly what Mbarik said, so I want to a bit cautious here in how I describe things. Some of the video is available here, prefaced by Ould Ghadda’s remarks (wherein he called for Ould Abd al-Aziz to resign, due to what Ould Ghadda said was obfuscation surrounding the incident of the shooting). Ould Ghadda’s Facebook post commenting on the video has been reproduced in various places, including here (Arabic). From what I can tell (and here I may be wrong due to either sourcing problems or lack of Hassaniyya competency – commenters, please correct/add as necessary), neither the video nor the commentary advanced a full, alternative account of how and why Ould Abd al-Aziz was shot; rather, they raised doubts about parts of the official account. Among other comments, Ould Ghadda noted that the two soldiers were trainees who were not permitted to fire unless their training camp was directly under attack.

In any case, back in the present, Mbarik has recanted (Arabic) what he said in the video and has testified that Ould Ghadda pressured him to record the video and promised to pay him for it. The court has also heard testimony (Arabic) from the soldier who, according to the official account, accidentally shot Ould Abd al-Aziz; that soldier, whose surname I would transliterate as Ould Ahaymad, testified that the official story from 2012 is the truth. For his part, in court Ould Ghadda maintained that Mbarik had been forced to recant under pressure. The Mauritanian press seems more interested in the various recantations and counter-testimonies in the present than it does in the substance of the doubts raised about the official account. Significantly, however, the press has also noted that this is the first time the shooting has been discussed in any Mauritanian court.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter what happened in October 2012 – whether it was an accident or an assassination attempt, Ould Abd al-Aziz survived and remained in power. But in another sense, the questions surrounding the incident continue to reverberate periodically in Mauritanian politics, symbolizing – for the president’s critics and opponents – their doubts about transparency and secrecy in his administration.

 

 

The New Mauritanian G5 Joint Force Commander and His Chadian Deputy

Late last week French and Mauritanian media that the new G5 Sahel Joint Force commander will be Mauritanian General Hanena Ould Sidi. He replaces Malian General Didier Dacko, whose removal was one outcome of the 2 July meeting of Sahelian and French heads of state in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

Ould Sidi is Mauritania’s Vice Chief of Army Staff. He is mentioned in a few brief news items at the Mauritanian Army’s website (example), but other than that I can’t find much information about him, either in French or in Arabic (here is the Arabic spelling of his name, for those curious).

La Tribune reports that at the G5 Sahel Joint Force, Ould Sidi’s deputy will be Chadian General Oumar Bikimo Jean, whose French-language Wikipedia page (which is pretty well sourced) is here.

Sahelian Governments’ Readouts of the 2 July Nouakchott Meeting on the G5 Sahel

On 2 July, amid the African Union summit in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, the presidents of France and five Sahelian countries (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad) met to discuss Sahelian security generally and the G5 Sahel Joint Force specifically. One outcome of the meeting was the sack of the Joint Force’s commander, Malian General Didier Dacko.

For French speakers, though, I thought it would be useful to round up all the official readouts of the meeting I could find. The Chadian presidency and the Nigerien presidency released official statements, while Mali’s president did a wide-ranging interview with France24 on the margins of the summit and (so far as I could tell) Burkina Faso’s president did not release a readout, just two comments on Twitter. As for Mauritania, the official Agence Mauritanienne d’Information released a readout here. Finally, the French president’s remarks to the press can be found here.

To me the most interesting readout was the Nigerien version, which had a few highlights (other than the main theme of the meeting, which seems to have been “let’s get this thing going a lot more”):

  • The G5 countries will now move to rebuild the damaged force headquarters in Sévaré, Mali;
  • They will continue to pursue a United Nations Chapter Seven mandate for the force (more backstory here), which might help resolve some of its financial problems; and
  • The regional governments will meet again in Nouakchott on 6 December.