Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was shot by soldiers on October 13, continues to recuperate in a Paris hospital, where according to his son he is doing well. As the President’s absence lingers on, though, the opposition is beginning to make complaints and call for the establishment of a transitional framework.
The Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (CDO), an umbrella group for opposition parties, began to ask for an investigation soon after the shooting. Opposition leaders have continued to press for information. Messaoud Boulkheir, president of the National Assembly and leader of the People’s Progressive Alliance, spoke with Abdel Aziz by telephone (French) on October 31. Boulkheir expressed frustration that he had not been able to speak with the President earlier.
In addition to requesting information, the opposition has started to formulate demands. Reuters writes that demonstrators in Nouakchott yesterday called not only for more information, but for an end to the military’s role in politics (Abdel Aziz, formerly a general in the armed forces, originally came to power in a military coup in 2008). Reuters adds that Boulkheir’s report of a conversation with Abdel Aziz came as an attempt “to calm the country’s citizens.” ANI, meanwhile, reports (Arabic) that the COD “doubts the official story of the President’s accident and calls for the establishment of a new transitional stage.” ANI quotes opposition leader Saleh Ould Hannena as calling for this transition, Islamist leader Jamil Mansour as calling for the army to distance itself from politics, and opposition leader Ahmed Ould Daddah as calling for dialogue. More, in French, here (h/t Boc@r and Peter Tinti).
How long can Abdel Aziz stay out of the country without precipitating major alarm or unrest? Kal writes that for the moment,
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mohamed Ghazouani is the man in charge and among opposition types and some closer to the government there is a feeling that Ould Abdel Aziz is a dangerous position, and that remaining abroad too long could invite coup plots, political unrest or attacks from AQIM. Key variables at this point include the political ambitions of Gen. Ghazouani and the loyalty of the armed forces and intelligence service to the president – especially the commando units and BASEP (the republican guards), which Ould Abdel Aziz founded and led until ‘leaving’ army in 2009.
The 2006 Mauritanian constitution (English text here, French text here), which I believe to be the one in operation (I am not sure), has this to say about the incapacity of the president (Part II):
Article 40: In case of vacancy or incapacity declared permanent by the Constitutional Council, the President of the Senate as
acting President of the Republic for the current business. Prime Minister and members of Government, considered resigning, ensure the current business.
The Acting President may not terminate their appointments. He can take the people by referendum, nor dissolve the National Assembly.
The election of new President of the Republic shall, except in cases of force majeure declared by the Constitutional Council within three (3) months from the declaration of the vacancy or permanent incapacity.
During the interim period, no constitutional amendment can not intervene either by referendum or by parliamentary vote.
Article 41: The Constitutional Council, to find a vacancy or permanent incapacity, is seized by either:
· The President of the Republic;
· President of the National Assembly;
· Prime Minister
How this works in practice is not clear to me and may, I suspect, not be clear to others, which could occasion some serious debate if Abdel Aziz’s stay outside the country goes on for long.
Looking around the region, there are no comparative cases that I can think of that are relevant to Mauritania’s situation. When Guinea’s military leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara was shot in the head on December 3, 2009, it was not until January 16, 2010 that he formally renounced power – though, in retrospect, it seems clear that his power was gone well before that. Dadis’ case, though, seems very dissimilar to Abdel Aziz’s, given that Abdel Aziz enjoyed much greater legitimacy before his wounding and that his wound appears less serious. Another possible comparison might be Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’Adua, who convalesced in Saudi Arabia from November 23, 2009 to February 24, 2010. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was appointed Acting President on February 9, 2010, and became President on Yar’Adua’s death on May 5 2010. But Yar’Adua’s case does not seem very relevant to Abdel Aziz’s either; Yar’Adua was a very sick man, but he was not a victim of violence. The relevant point from Nigeria’s experience may be, again, the passionate legal disputes that Yar’Adua’s absence evoked.
All this may be moot – Abdel Aziz may be back in Mauritania, and back in full command, quite soon. But the longer he is gone, the louder the complaints from the opposition will become, and the greater the uncertainty in the streets.