Magharebia (Washington DC)

Mauritania: Presidential Absence Sparks Controversy in Mauritania

Nouakchott — Mauritanian opposition activists are urging the government to release more information on the presidential shooting and line of succession.

Opposition parties in Mauritania are speaking out about what they see as a political vacuum in the wake of the "accidental" shooting of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

The Co-ordination of Democratic Opposition (COD) and ruling parties are sparring over what the opposition calls a constitutional vacuum resulting from the ambiguous political situation, a lack of knowledge about who has been running the country since the president's medical evacuation and a lack of information on the head of state's health condition or his expected return date.

The only official to provide information on the president's condition was Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, leader of the People's Progressive Alliance and Speaker of the National Assembly. He held a press conference October 31st after speaking by phone with President Ould Abdel Aziz, who remains in a Paris military hospital.

"The phone conversation lasted for five minutes and it enabled me to check on the president's health," he said. "He confirmed to me that his condition is good and is steadily improving. However, his voice was weaker than before, but he was enjoying all of his mental powers."

Ould Boulkheir concluded by calling on all "majority and opposition parties and all the Mauritanian people to unite their ranks, renounce differences and distance themselves from conflicts and from everything that would cause disturbances in their country which is going through a critical juncture".

However, the press conference failed to satisfy the COD, which held an event for its members November 1st in Nouakchott. The rotating president of COD, Saleh Ould Henena, questioned the official account of the president's injury. He called for "conducting a transparent investigation by a credible entity into what has happened so that the Mauritanian people may know the truth and circumstances of what has happened".

"The solution is to start a real transition that would lead to a democratic system which would involve a full break with the unilateral approach and bring Mauritania and its people to a stage in which stability will be realized and unity consolidated, a democratic system that would focus on solving citizens' problems and concerns," he added.

In his turn, Ahmad Ould Daddah, Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD) party chief, called on political forces to initiate a comprehensive dialogue in view of what he described as "constitutional vacuum" in order to get the country out of its current impasse.

Meanwhile, Tawassoul leader Jemil Ould Mansour called for "distancing the army from politics and for organising a consensus transition that would put an end to the domination of military on political life".

While opposition parties are united in their calls for a political transition, the ruling parties remain firm in their support of the ailing president.

"There is no article in the constitution that gives the opposition the right to demand the president's health file," Mohamed Yahya Ould Herma, vice president of the ruling Union for the Republic Party (UPR), said in a statement Thursday (November 1st).

He added that the opposition shouldn't question who was currently governing Mauritania because the constitution stipulated it "in an unequivocal way".

In his turn, Sidi Mohamed Ould Maham, a member of parliament and a leading member of the UPR, told Sahara Media he rejected the call for a new transition as "meaningless".

"All presidents get sick but they remain in power and manage the country through the existing constitutional institutions in their country," Ould Maham commented. "The president was elected in a transparent way with national and international consensus and with a consensus interim government."

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