Mauritania’s ruling party secures sweeping election victory

The Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Mauritania, known as Tewassoul, failed to make gains despite aligning with other opposition parties.
Friday 21/09/2018
A man casts his vote at a polling station in Nouakchott for the country's legislative, regional and local elections. (AFP)
Rolling the dice. A man casts his vote at a polling station in Nouakchott for the country's legislative, regional and local elections. (AFP)

TUNIS - Mauritania’s ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) party won all 22 contested parliamentary seats in the country’s second round of elections, securing a “crushing majority” in parliament and dealing a strong blow to the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Mauritania, the National Rally for Reform and Development, known as Tewassoul, failed to make gains despite aligning with other opposition parties.

“The election outcome was a blow to Islamist extremists, whose resurgence elsewhere in the Arab region has caused ruin and tragedy,” said Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. “The Mauritanian people gave these extremists a lesson.”

Before the election Ould Abdel Aziz had warned voters against backing Islamists and their allies, claiming that “proponents of political Islam are all extremists.”

“Activists of the political Islamist parties are extremists. They take up weapons when they fail to achieve their objectives and goals by political ways,” he said.

Tewassoul, a disciplined and well-organised political party that is widely seen as Mauritania’s strongest opposition group, said Ould Abdel Aziz’s statements had hurt the party’s election odds.

“It was the most stinging attack on us,” said senior Tewassoul official Mohamed Jamil Mansour. “In the past, we were assailed by critics but not from the president. This discourse of demonisation, accusations and fear mongering affected our election results.

Tewassoul, which finished second to UPR in the first round of voting with 14 parliamentary seats, suffered a sound defeat in the second round. The UPR sweep of 22 contested seats in the second round expanded its victory in the first round when it won 67 of the 131 seats at stake. UPR now controls 89 seats in the 157-member National Assembly.

Ould Abdel Aziz urged supporters to help UPR secure an overwhelming majority in parliament to “protect the gains of stability and economic development” and “ensure the continuity and reinforcement of the regime.”

The president promised to step down at the end of his second term next year, ending speculation over whether he would scrap presidential term limits and extend his tenure. However, some government ministers have pushed for him to run again, arguing that the country and the people come before the constitution and it is the people who demand that the president seek a new mandate.

UPR also won control of nine regional council seats in the second round of voting. An array of opposition groups claimed four of the total 13 councils.

The ruling party expanded its presence on the municipal level, gaining 942 seats throughout 108 municipalities, with Tewassoul trailing with 106 seats.

UPR President Sidi Mohamed Ould Maham said: “The decisive results achieved by the party are a very clear message sent by the Mauritanian people to President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

“It is clear and certain. Your message is well-received,” he added on Twitter, prompting renewed speculation that Ould Abdel Aziz could seek another term in office.

Ould Abdel Aziz is widely credited with charting Mauritania’s course towards becoming one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the Sahel. Mauritania leads the France-backed G5 regional military force combating the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups in the region.

Analysts said the country’s peaceful, competitive election process was a further indication of the country’s progress under Ould Abdel Aziz. The United Nations and the African Union praised Mauritania for having peaceful and secure elections.

Turnout for the second round September 15 of the vote was 56%, compared to 73.4% in the first round on September 1, said Mohamed Vall Ould Belal, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. Analysts said the turnout was lower in the second round because there were far fewer political parties represented.

Ould Belal said that the election results showed that the “winds of modernity were blowing over Mauritanian civic society.”

“The elections showed the increase of the development of political awareness within society with the multiplication of plurality of choices that were apparent in places and ways where traditions and old bonds had been strong,” said Ould Belal.

Mauritania’s political landscape will change with a new law that bans parties that fail to receive 1% of the vote. Most -- 80% -- of Mauritania’s 96 parties failed to reach the 1% threshold.

Analysts in Mauritania said the opposition failed to unify, get its message out and win support in remote areas.

“Unity of the opposition is crucial for the presidential elections,” said political writer Mohamed Cheikh Ould Sidi. “Compared to the battles of next year’s presidential elections, the September elections will look like child's play.”