Photograph — VOA

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania has a new president in the person of  Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, a former general, defense minister and the government-backed candidate. Ghazouani won the presidential election on Sunday with a 52 percent vote, cementing the power of the UPR (Union pour la république), Mauritania’s ruling party. 

His nearest rival, anti-slavery campaigner Biram Dah Abeid, came second with an 18.58 percent vote, and Mohamed Ould Boubacar, who is backed by the country’s biggest Islamist party, secured 17.85 percent of the votes.

Sunday’s election which was largely peaceful, was the first democratic transfer of power in the north-west African country since its independence from France in 1960 as Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz steps aside after serving two five-year elected terms. Abdel Aziz had seized power in a 2008 coup and was later elected as president in 2009 and 2014 in an election major opposition parties boycotted.

The 62-year-old outgoing president is credited to have stabilised and grown Mauritania’s economy in the last 11 years. As pointed by Reuters, Abdel Aziz surprised many of his compatriots and international observers by not subverting the law to cling onto power, a trend practised by most African leaders like DRC’s Kabila, Uganda’s Museveni and most recently, Egyptian President El-Sisi.

His economic record notwithstanding, Abdel Aziz faced criticism for not tackling the persistence of slavery in Mauritania. The Islamic country has one of the highest rates of slavery in the world; late 2017, it was estimated that about 400,000 people were living in slavery in the country, which is about one percent of its over four million population. Activists and groups who speak against slavery are systematically silenced by the government and Abdel Aziz has often denied that slavery is widespread.

President-elect Ghazouani is expected to advance his predecessor’s economic and security progress, the platforms on which he campaigned. “There are only two choices – going backwards towards extremism, waste and instability, or a candidate who will continue what has been achieved to build a stable and developed state,” Abdel Aziz had told supporters a few days to the election on Sunday. 

Meanwhile, opposition candidates have said they will contest the result. “This seems like a coup d’etat. We are united and will lead the contestation (of the results),” Biram Dah Abeid, told a news conference speaking for himself and other opposition leaders. Third place candidate, Ould Boubacar also declared that the results of the election do not reflect the will of the Mauritanian people hence the opposition rejects it. He claims that multiple irregularities eliminated any credibility of the election.

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