Mauritania’s ruling party eyes lion’s share of voters in elections

Mauritania’s ruling party said it has recruited more than 1 million members; the total number of eligible voters is estimated at 1.4 million.
Sunday 27/05/2018
Politics of recruitment. A July 2017 file picture shows supporters of Mauritanian President gathering and holding banners during a rally in Nouakchott.  (AFP)
Politics of recruitment. A July 2017 file picture shows supporters of Mauritanian President gathering and holding banners during a rally in Nouakchott. (AFP)

TUNIS - Mauritania’s ruling Union for the Republic party said it has recruited more than 1 million members as it prepares for municipal and parliamentary elections in September. Mauritania’s population numbers about 4.4 million and the number of eligible voters is estimated at 1.4 million.

“The operation to list members for the Union of the Republic (broke all) records. It yielded 1,116,197 members,” said party President Sidi Mohamed Ould Maham. “Such strong recruitment of members is a first in the country’s history.”

The country’s elections, followed by presidential elections next year, will test Mauritania’s civil authorities’ abilities to steer political power away from the military, which has a history of interfering in the political process.

Analysts say democratic practices have yet to take hold in Mauritania and that the military, controlled by Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, retains significant economic and military power. Ould Abdel Aziz rose to power in 2008 after leading a coup that deposed elected Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi. Ould Abdel Aziz was elected president in 2009 with 53% of the vote and re-elected in 2014, with 82% of the vote.

Opposition groups have expressed concern that Ould Abdel Aziz lacks respect for the constitution, which limits presidents to two 5-year terms in office, and that his Union for the Republic party works to allow him to stay in power until 2024 or longer.

Ould Abdel Aziz announced this year that he would abide by the constitution’s two-term limit and not seek to change it or extend his tenure but supporters and government officials have encouraged him to pursue another term.

Analysts said Ould Abdel Aziz was unlikely to stay in power, however, and that the party’s main challenge would be avoiding infighting over who would be his replacement.

The Union for the Republic has begun a 3-week election process to choose local leaders of the party’s 20,000 cells, each of which has around 50 members.

“The elections in the local cells will likely stir rifts and many problems in rural communities and among tribes… Such problems are likely to influence the climate within the party,” said Mauritanian news site Sahara Media in an analysis

“The fighting among the union’s factions will give the election operation a degree of transparency but it could threaten the success of the operation amid the doubts about the next political stage and the absence of renewed talk about a third mandate for the president.”

Ould Maham urged officials to “keep the unity of the party through entente and compromise.”

“Those who gain the majority in the cells should not sideline the minority that lost the vote,” he said.

Mauritania’s leading opposition grouping, the National Forum for Democracy and Unity (FNDU), said it would compete in the upcoming parliamentary and municipal polls. It had previously boycotted elections during Ould Abdel Aziz’s time in office.

“We have decided to participate in these elections because we do not accept to stay at the margins of a process leading to a political changeover in Mauritania,” FNDU leader Mohamed Ould Moloud said in a statement.

The FNDU called for supporters to take part in a march June 4 starting at the Saudi Mosque in Nouakchott, within earshot of the presidential palace.

“If the rally draws a huge number of people, it will send a message to local authorities and beyond them to the international opinion that Mauritanians do not want elections to extend the status quo,” said a senior FNDU official.

“The rally would constitute a turning point in Mauritania’s democratic path if a huge crowd were to join it. If it turns out to be a normal rally, then the authorities will get the message (that) there is no pressure to change the situation with the same people staying in power,” the official added.

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