Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé)

19 June 2014

Mauritania's Presidential Poll Holds Tomorrow

Photo: Mamoudou Kane/IRIN
Campaign in Nouakchott (file photo)

The incumbent, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, is running against four candidates, including a lady.

In further test of Mauritania's nascent democracy, voters go to the polls tomorrow, June 21, 2014, to choose the next President in a race that a portion of the opposition is boycotting. Electioneering began on June 6, 2014 and ended yesterday, June 19, 2014.

Running against President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz who is assured of re-election are Lalla Mariem Mint Moulaye Idriss (the only lady), Boidiel Ould Houmeid, Ibrahima Moctar Sarr, and anti-slavery activist, Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid. Aged 49, Biram Dah Abeid is certainly the main rival to President Mohammed Abdel Aziz. The son of a freed slave, Abeid, was winner of the United Nations Human Rights Prize in 2013.

On voters' minds, as they head to the polls this weekend, will be the issue of slavery that has continued in Mauritania for decades despite repeated pledges to eradicate the practice. According to the international anti-slavery organisation, 'Walk Free,' the country is believed to have the highest proportion of people in slavery in the world - about 600,000, mainly women and children. They are held in chattel slavery whereby masters exercise total ownership over both adults and children. While Mauritania has passed anti-slavery legislation, weak enforcement remains a fundamental issue.

President Abdel Aziz launched his campaign for re-election in the southern city of Kaedi, telling supporters that under his leadership, the country had made "great strides" in security and economic growth. He said he had transformed the country into a regional haven of peace, thanks to his reorganisation of the military and security forces.

He came to power after leading the 2008 overthrow of former President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the country's first democratically elected leader. In the summer of 2009, Abdel Aziz won the presidential election with over 50 per cent of the vote. One of his key priorities is to battle 'terrorism.'

Mauritania is viewed by the West as being strategically important in the fight against Al-Qaeda-linked groups both within its borders and across the region. Since gaining independence from France in 1960, the country of about 3.5 million people has seen a series of military coups and attempted coups.

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