Polls close in Mauritania, with the incumbent ally of the West favored to win

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — Polls closed in Mauritania’s presidential election on Saturday, with the incumbent Mohamed Ould Ghazouani widely expected to win after positioning Mauritania as a strategic ally of the West in a region swept by coups and violence.

Ghazouni, who is seeking reelection on the pledge of providing security and economic growth, is a former army chief and the current president of the African Union. He came to power in 2019 following the first democratic transition in the country’s history, and on Saturday promised to respect the results of the vote.

“The last word belongs to the Mauritanian voters,” Ghazouni said after voting in Ksar, the suburb of the capital. “I commit myself to respecting their choice.”

Saturday’s vote unfolded peacefully, according to observers. The turnout was 40% out of 2 million eligible voters, and partial results were expected on Sunday.

“Nothing has been detected so far and the CENI has not received any complaints,” said Taghioullah Ledhem, the spokesman for CENI, the country’s independent electoral commission. But some opposition candidates held a different view.

“We noted irregularities such as voting without identity cards, voting by proxy and the expulsion of representatives of opposition candidates,” said Outoma Soumare, one of Ghazoumi’s opponents.

Although his opponents accused him of corruption and mismanagement, he remains popular among Mauritanians who see him as a beacon of stability. The vote is taking place in a particularly tense regional climate, with Mauritania’s neighboring countries shaken by military coups and jihadi violence.

“We must not let ourselves be fooled by the slogans of the candidates who are not reassuring,” said Marième Brahim, a 38-year-old company executive, who voted for Ghazouni. “Mauritania must vote for continuity and stability and its security in a troubled environment and it is not these candidates without experience in governance who will give us confidence.”

Ghazouani faced six opponents, including an anti-slavery activist, leaders of several opposition parties and a neurosurgeon, who accused the government of corruption and clientelism.

Mauritania is rich in natural resources such as iron ore, copper, zinc, phosphate, gold, oil and natural gas. It is poised to become a gas producer by the end of the year, with the planned launch of the BP-operated Greater Tortue Ahmeyin offshore gas project at the border with Senegal.

Yet almost 60% of the population live in poverty, according to the United Nations, working as farmers or employed in the informal sector. With few economic opportunities for young people at home, many are attempting to cross the Atlantic to reach Europe, and some are even trying to get to the United States through Mexico.

Mohamed Lemine Ould Moktar, 45, who voted for an opposition candidate, has two young sons who remain unemployed despite having university diplomas.

“I just voted for change. We have had enough of identical regimes which squander the people’s assets and maintain corruption,” Ould Moktar said. “Just look at more than 40,000 young Mauritanians take the path of immigration to the United States by jumping the border wall between Mexico and the United States. This is why I am voting for change.”


AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

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