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:

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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.

 

 

Mauritanian Ulama Debate a Third Term for the President

Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abd al-Aziz will reach the end of his second term next year, and with it the limit of what the current constitutional provisions allow him to serve. Talk of a third term, however, has circulated for quite some time, and now the country’s religious scholars – ulama – are joining the debate. Recently, one of the most prominent senior shaykhs in the country, Hamdan Ould al-Tah, led a delegation that met the president and urged him to seek a third term. The expression of support is not necessarily surprising – Ould al-Tah has been close to different governments in Mauritania almost throughout the postcolonial period, and served as Minister of Islamic Affairs in addition to serving on various official religious bodies. Moreover, from a religious point of view, many ulama see political stability as preferable to the potential risks of change.

On the other side of the religious debate is Mahfoudh Brahim Ould Vall, vice president of Markaz Takwin al-Ulama (the Center for the Training of Ulama). The Markaz’s president is the globally famous Muhammad al-Hasan Ould al-Dedew, who is also a symbol of sorts for the Islamist movement in Mauritania, though he is not a member of the Islamist Tawassoul party. I assume that Ould Vall speaks for a broader constituency within the Islamist movement. Ould Vall argues that president, like any state functionary, is morally bound to fulfill his original commitments – i.e, to serve only what he initially said he would serve. RFI sees a generational split in this debate, but I think it may be more about which ideological tendency one affiliates with.

A third perspective comes from another globally famous Mauritanian shaykh (and former Minister of Islamic Affairs), Abd Allah Bin Bayyah. In a recent interview, Bin Bayyah said in a general sense that he believes ulama should leave politics to a country’s rulers. He did not, however, comment specifically on the third term issue in Mauritania.

Mauritania’s Legislative Elections: A New Date, and a New Delay

On August 3, Mauritania’s Communications Minister Mohamed Yahya Ould Hormah announced that the country would hold legislative and municipal elections on October 12 of this year. The government has repeatedly delayed elections, originally scheduled for 2011, due to disagreements with the opposition. Unless I am mistaken, the last time Mauritania held parliamentary elections was in November/December 2006 for legislative and municipal seats, and January/February 2007 for senate seats. If this is correct then Mauritania has not held legislative elections since the military coup of August 2008 that brought current President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (who won election as a civilian in July 2009) to power.

This month’s attempt to schedule an election also met with a delay. Parties within the Coordination of Democratic Opposition (COD) coalition swiftly announced their plans to boycott the October elections. Among those threatening a boycott were the left-leaning Union of the Forces of Progress (UFP) and the Islamist National Rally for Reform and Development (Tewassoul). Tewassoul and others cite concerns about transparency and fairness. Their stated concerns resemble those raised by other COD parties in August 2011. For those interested in further details, Tewassoul’s website features an August 12 COD statement (Arabic) entitled “Why is [the COD] Boycotting the Elections for Which the Regime Calls?”

In response to the boycott threat, the government on August 22 postponed the elections until November 23. A second round may follow on December 7.

The government’s responsiveness to the opposition’s boycott threats is noteworthy. What do you think? Does it bespeak fear, or political savvy, or both?

Quick Items: Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Mali, Goodluck Jonathan Visits Yobe and Borno [Updated]

Two noteworthy stories:

Mauritania and Mali

In a speech on Monday, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz expressed greater openness than in the recent past to the idea of Mauritanian deployments in Mali. Mauritanian forces chased fighters from Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb into northern Mali at several points in 2010 and 2011, but during 2012 Abdel Aziz stated repeatedly that Mauritania would not intervene in Mali.

On Monday Abdel Aziz also emphasized his country’s role in “encircling [hardline Islamist fighters] in the north of Mali in order to enable Malian units to intervene and finish them off in their dens.” ANI (Arabic) has more on the speech.

Nigeria

On February 28, governors from an alliance of Nigerian opposition parties held a day-long conference in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, epicenter of the violent Boko Haram sect. The Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust commented, “the fact that the governors took the bull by the horns and held their meeting in Maiduguri, despite security reports that there may be attacks and blasts by suspected insurgents speak volume of their determination to give the [ruling] Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a run for its money.”

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan is set to visit the northeastern states of Yobe and Borno (where Maiduguri is the capital) today. One source says this visit “will be his first to the troubled states since his assumption of office.” Residents in Borno and Yobe interviewed by Leadership expressed a range of views about the visit, with some optimistic that Jonathan may use the moment to announce compensation programs or other initiatives, and others fearful that the visit will bring an even tighter security lockdown.

The Sultan of Sokoto, meanwhile, called on Jonathan this week to offer an amnesty to Boko Haram fighters. The Sultan said, “If there is amnesty declared we believe so many of those young men who have been tired of running and hiding will come out and embrace that amnesty.”

UPDATE: Reuters:

“I cannot talk about amnesty with Boko Haram now until they come out and show themselves,” Jonathan told reporters in Yobe state capital Damaturu, a town regularly hit by the sect’s guerrilla-style bomb and gun attacks.

See also Chike’s remarks in the comments section below.

Africa News Roundup: Abdel Aziz Back to France, Jubaland Plans, Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Trials of Mutineers in Burkina Faso, and More

The United Nations Security Council is considering a plan by the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union to deploy troops in Mali. The French government has urged the UNSC to pass the resolution approving the force by December 20.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was shot on October 13, returned to Mauritania one week ago after an extended convalescence in France. Yesterday he announced that he will return to France briefly for further medical treatment, raising questions about the state of his health. At the same press conference, Abdel Aziz also stated his opposition to an external military intervention in Mali.

AFP: “Renewed Flooding Threatens Niger Capital.”

Garowe on “Jubaland”:

According to Jubaland authorities, there have been five committees set up to establish the Jubaland state in southern Somalia.

The committees include a Security Committee, Election Committee, Selection Committee, Logistics and Financial Committee, and an Awareness Committee, according to Jubaland sources. Each committee consists of 11 members.

The committees will be fundamental in creating the Jubaland state that has been backed by IGAD regional bloc.

IRIN:

After almost a decade of rebel rule, northern Côte d’Ivoire is coming to terms with a new authority as the government of President Alassane Ouattara, who assumed power some 18 months ago, establishes its presence in a region which effectively split from the rest of the country.

Aman Sethi’s op-ed on the Muslim protests in Ethiopia.

Reuters:

Seven gendarmes were jailed on Thursday for taking part in last year’s military mutinies in Burkina Faso, in the first trial linked to the outburst of deadly riots, protests and looting in the normally peaceful West African nation.

A new video from Abubakar Shekau of Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

What else is happening?