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/

A Mauritanian Convoy to Gaza

For some time now I have been following the Mauritanian Salafi Sheikh Muhammad al Hasan Ould Dedew and the country’s Islamist Tewassoul Party, for which Sheikh Dedew acts as a spiritual mentor. One important aspect of Islamist activism in Mauritania is Islamists’ deep concern with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This concern has taken the form of protests, including pressure on the Mauritanian government to break ties with Israel (Mauritania recognized Israel in 1999 and suspended relations in 2009), and in the form of trips by Mauritanian Islamist delegations to Palestine. For example, Tewassoul’s Vice President Mohamed Ghoulam Ould Hadj was on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in 2010.

I was therefore interested to read in the Mauritanian press (Arabic) about a convoy recently organized in part by Mauritania’s National League for the Assistance of the Palestinian People. The convoy’s members traveled to Gaza earlier this month to distribute aid and attend events such as the December 8 rally celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hamas’ founding. The convoy included Sheikh Dedew, as head of the delegation, Ould Hadj (who heads the League), and Saleh Ould Hannena of the Hatem Party (Arabic; Wikipedia bio here). Worth noting is that both Hamas and Tewassoul have roots in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The delegation returned to Mauritania yesterday. You can read a first-person account of the first leg of the trip here (Arabic), and more coverage of the return (with photographs) here (Arabic). The press refers to the delegation as the “Shinqit Convoy 3,” suggesting there were two previous delegations, though I have not been able to find references to them online.

This video contains interviews, in Arabic, with participants in the convoy, including Ould Hadj, a student leader, and others. I have embedded Sheikh Dedew’s speech at the Hamas rally below.

I have no major analytical point to make about the convoy – and I am not trying to gin up any alarm over Tewassoul’s contact with Hamas. My interest is in three issues: (1) how different Muslim movements and communities respond to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even in places the international media often treats as peripheral; (2) how Tewassoul’s activism on Palestine relates to its broader position within Mauritanian domestic politics; and (3) how Sheikh Dedew frames his interventions on the Palestine issue, and how this issue relates to his broader self-presentation as a religious leader. The convoy is one data point to consider in thinking about those questions.

Mauritanian Islamists Reject the Idea of External Intervention in Mali

Amid Mali’s ongoing crisis, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has proposed to send some 3,000 troops there to help Malian government forces retake the Islamist-held north. Other external actors, such as France, have indicated that they would support such an intervention logistically. Talk of interventions is drawing reactions within Mali but also from its neighbors.

Reactions in Mauritania, Mali’s neighbor to the west, are worth watching. Mauritania sent troops into northern Mali on several occasions in 2010 and 2011 pursuing fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). This August, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz stated that his country will not intervene militarily in Mali. Mauritania is not a member of ECOWAS. Last week, Abdel Aziz met with General Carter Ham, head of US AFRICOM, to discuss the potential for intervention in Mali, but few details of the meeting are publicly available.

Some constituencies inside Mauritania strongly oppose an external intervention. One such constituency is the segment of Islamists represented by the political party Tewassoul (“The National Rally for Reform and Development”; Arabic site here). Yesterday, the party released a statement against intervention in Mali (Arabic). The statement partly blames Abdel Aziz’s regime for the current crisis in Mali, and has several key planks, paraphrased here:

  • The party supports the territorial integrity of Mali.
  • The party calls on neighboring countries, the African Union, and the United Nations to support negotiations and a non-violent solution to the crisis.
  • The party warns of “disastrous and negative consequences for the region as a whole from any foreign intervention guided by Western countries on the basis of their agenda and their interests.”
  • The party opposes any Mauritanian support, military or logistical, for a military intervention in Mali.

Mauritanian Islamists are far from being the dominant political players in the country – in the last presidential elections, Tewassoul’s candidate Jamil Mansour placed fourth in the official results, with around 5% of the vote – yet they have at times acted as a significant pressure group, particularly with regard to foreign policy. Analysts have cited Islamists’ street demonstrations and political mobilization as a factor in prompting Mauritania’s decision to suspend relations with Israel in 2009. Mauritanian Islamists have been effective in articulating popular sentiments against forms of perceived neo-colonialism in Mauritania and the region.

Tewassoul’s statement, then, has significance for understanding how Islamists of different stripes are reacting to the situation in Mali and how the issue is playing out in Mauritanian domestic politics. I don’t want to overstate the influence Tewassoul has, especially over Abdel Aziz. But Tewassoul may have some success mobilizing around this cause.

Mauritania, Islamism, Jihadism, and the Internet

Magharebia published an article several days ago about Mauritanian youth and jihadist websites:

Since the As-Sahab Foundation, al-Jahafel, al-Andalus Media and other websites linked to al-Qaeda organisations are now readily accessible throughout the capital city, parents have begun monitoring their children’s activities and online friendships.

“I noticed a change in my son,” Alnina Mint Al-Nahi, tells Magharebia about 16-year-old Al-Saalek. “Especially in his daily addiction to watching religious channels, to the point of becoming furious when we wanted to watch news or entertainment programmes. He even accused us as being misguided,” the 52-year-old says.

“Facing my son’s hard-line behaviour, I decided to remove the television from the house once and for all, and that led him to replace it with an addiction to internet cafes,” she continues. “This is causing me to fear his falling into the hands of extremist groups.”

In the Arafat neighbourhood of Nouakchott, many young people endure idleness and poverty. And this makes them particularly susceptible to online recruiters.

The whole article is worth reading.

The argument that poverty leads to extremism is widely debated, but let’s leave it aside in favor of another issue: the relationship between non-violent Islamism and violent jihadism.Mauritania has both, which makes it a relevant case study.

It is interesting that the article singles out Arafat as a center for jihadist recruitment. Arafat is the neighborhood that elected Jamil Mansour as its mayor in 2001; Mansour is today Mauritania’s leading Islamist politician. Mansour and his fellow mainstream Islamist leaders denounce jihadi violence, and it is tempting to conclude that in a neighborhood where political Islam is clearly a force, Islamism is a (the most?) compelling and constructive alternative to jihadism for youth. In other words, the youth reached by Mansour’s Tewassoul party may be less likely to join jihadi movements than the politically unaffiliated.

This is speculation, and I would need data to back the theory up. But the point is that Islamism is not necessarily the first step to extremism. For many it can be a completely different path.