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IRIN-West Africa: Mauritania - Election Brief, 11 December 1997
[This brief is intended as background information for the humanitarian community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the UN. IRIN accepts no responsibility as to the accuracy of the original source.]
A. THE ELECTORAL FRONT
Thirteen years to the day since President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya seized power in a military coup, Mauritanians go to the polls on Friday, 12 December, in the second presidential election since the restoration of democracy in 1992. Despite the existence of 21 registered parties, only five candidates are contesting the election. As in 1992, Mauritania's main opposition parties have again called for a boycott. The candidates, with one exception, are Beydanes (white-Moors), the ethnic group which has dominated the government since independence. The political parties broadly reflect the country's ethnic and social divisions with the majority of black Mauritanians supporting the opposition (1).
Taya, an army colonel, is considered the leading contender. According to the banned daily 'Mauritanie Nouvelles', now published abroad, Taya's re-election is a "mere formality", largely because his opponents are hampered by financial constraints and poor representation in the interior of the country. His recent loss of pro-Arab nationalist support, poor voter registration, restrictions on the press and the opposition boycott could lead to low turnout on Friday. Both the Association Mondiale des Journalistes (AMJ) and Reporters San Frontieres (RSF) have been critical of government crackdowns on the independent media (2).
Under the 1991 constitution, which re-introduced multiparty democracy and stipulated that the president must be a Muslim, the country is governed by a bicameral assembly with a 56-seat senate and a 79-seat legislature. Taya's party recently won a landslide in the 1996 legislative elections. The opposition Action pour le Changement (AC) took only one seat, but suspended its candidate for supporting Taya. A further six seats went to independent candidates. In the 1994 municipal elections Taya's governing Parti Republicaine Democratique et Social (PRDS) took a majority with 171 of the 208 municipal seats. His party thus controls both houses and most of the elected local authorities. The current campaign started 27 November and a run-off, if necessary, is scheduled for 26 December.
B. THE CANDIDATES
B.1 Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed TAYA, Parti Republicain Democratique et Social (PRDS)
Taya, who is in his mid-50s, displaced the previous military strongman in a 1984 coup. However, under pressure at home and abroad, he initiated a gradual return to democracy in 1991. He was subsequently elected president in 1992 in what opposition parties charged were fraudulent elections. An 'Economist Intelligence Unit' analyst described his rule as a blend of "concession and oppression" (3). He has, however, made efforts to broaden his government's appeal and to appease national and international opinion. He purged influential Islamist and Arab nationalists and promoted leading black Mauritanians to the posts of Foreign Minister and as ambassadors to key trading partners. His campaign has focused on consolidating the democratic process and his government's economic performance which has drawn praise from international financial institutes. Demographically, Taya's main constituents are Beydanes in his stronghold around Atar in the north and the districts of Brakna and Hodhs, as well as some elite Haratines (black-Moors) and black Mauritanians. His candidacy is backed by the 'Mouvance Presidentielle', a group of independent parties considered pro-Taya. They include the Rassemblement pour la Democratie de l'Unite (RDU), and the Mouknas faction of the Union des Forces Democratiques (UDP).
B.2 Kane Amadou MOCTAR Independent
Moctar is the first black Mauritanian to run for president. A 57-year-old retired hospital administrator, his campaign as an independent has generated much interest. He is expected to draw some support from his home region in the southern Senegal River border district. Despite being a member of Ba Mamadou Alassane's Parti pour la Liberte, l'Egalite et la Justice (PLEJ), the party has distanced itself from him. He has promised to fight slavery, facilitate the return of black Mauritanian refugees from Senegal and introduce a new fisheries policy.
B.3 Dr. Mohamed Mahmoud Ould MAH, Union Populaire Socialiste et Democratique (UPSD)
Mah is a 57-year-old economist, university professor and secretary-general of the UPSD who also contested the 1992 presidential election. An Atar native, he has promised to renegotiate the IMF structural adjustment programme and to suspend the recent fisheries agreements with the EU in order to protect Mauritania's scarce resources.
B.4 Moulaye El Hacen Ould JIED (aka Jiyed) Parti Mauritanian pour le Renouveau et la Concorde (PRM or PRMC).
Jied, also from Atar, is a 45-year-old mining engineer and secretary-general of the PRM. He has promised to end press censorship.
B.5 Mohamed Lemine Ch'Bih Ould Cheikh MELAININE Independent
Melainine is an economist and former cabinet minister who quit the pro-Taya Rassemblement pour la Democratie de l'Unite (RDU) to run as an independent. He is also in the processes of building his own party, the Front Populaire (FP). His campaign has focused on eradicating slavery.
C. THE COALITION
Front des Partis de l'Opposition (FPO)
An uneasy coalition of black opposition parties and Arab nationalists, the FPO is united mainly in its opposition to Taya. Created in 1995, it groups five of Mauritania's main opposition parties. The FPO launched its boycott in June 1997 charging "impartial" elections could not be guaranteed due to the lack of an independent electoral commission and an independent judiciary. Mauritania's first civilian president, Mocktar Ould Daddah, who was ousted in a 1974 coup, has supported the boycott.
FPO parties include:
C.1 Union des Forces Democratiques (UFD or UFD/Ere Nouvelle)
UFD leader Ahmed Ould Daddah, the brother of former President Daddah, ran in the 1992 presidential race, when he took 33% of the vote against Taya's 63%. The party, a loose coalition of varied political parties united only in their opposition to Taya, was considered the second largest political force. It is supported by Beydanes from eastern Trarza as well as moderate Haratines and black Mauritanians. However, Daddah's popularity appears to have waned and his party has been significantly weakened by defections(4).
In 1993 Hamid Ould Mouknas led a mass defection, forming the Union pour la Democratie et le Progres (UDP). In 1994, two more factions broke away - the El-Hor (Free Men), descendants of former black slaves, and the young intelligentsia, who formed the Mouvement des Democrats Independants (MDI), which eventually allied itself with the ruling PRDS. In 1995, members of the party's Crisis Committee, mainly black non-Arabic speakers, also broke away to ally themselves with the El-Hor.
C.2 Actions pour le Changement (AC)
The AC, a previous member of the UFD, was set up in 1995 to champion the cause of former slaves, their descendants and black Mauritanians. It was the only opposition party to win a seat in the 1996 legislative elections, but has since suspended their representative for pro-Taya sentiments. The AC leader, Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, was arrested earlier this year on charges of "doubtful relations with a foreign power" - he had attended a birthday party for Libya's leader, Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi.
C.3 Alliance Populaire et Progressiste (APP)
The APP is a small left-of-centre party led by Mohamed El-Hajedh Ould Ismail.. Several of its members were also arrested and jailed for "doubtful relations with a foreign power". The APP is reportedly linked to the Nasserien movement (see below)(5).
C.4 Union pour la Democratie et Progres tendence Babaha (UDP 2)
The UDP 2 separated from the Mouknas UDP leadership over the latter's support for Taya.
C.5 Attali'a (aka Taliaa & Parti de l'Avant Garde)
A political party formed following a split within the pro-Iraqi Ba'th party (see below). Several of its members were arrested in a 1995 crackdown on pro-Iraqi political movements.
D. OTHER PARTIES & POLITICAL MOVEMENTS
D.1 Union pour la Democratie et Progres (UDP)
The UDP led by Hamid Ould Mouknas left the UFD in 1993 and later joined the ruling PRDS. Mouknas claimed the UDP left the opposition over the slavery debate which he said was being manipulated by foreign powers. He backs the government claim that all elements favouring the return of Mauritanian refugees have been meet (6).
D.2 Amicale pour la Defence de la Democratie (ADD)
The ADD is led by Cheikhna Ould Mohamed Laghdaf, a former minister of the first democratic government, and Khattar Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Taya's former secretary of state. ADD regroups nine NGOs, including the Mauritanian Human Rights Association. It has warned that Mauritania's democracy is in danger over human rights abuses and censorship.
D.3 Ba'th Movement
Headquartered in Iraq, the pro-Iraq Arab Socialist Ba'th Party was very influential in the post-1991 military governments. Moves to disband the party in 1988 led to a government shake-up and the arrest of a minister and several senior military officers. Despite being charged with subversion, many of the Ba'thists received only light sentences and were eventually reinstated. In 1995, several people were arrested as members of a Ba'th "spy" network, including prominent Ba'th leader Mohamed Ould Bridelleil. He was later exonerated and re-instated to a key government post (7). Today, overall Ba'thist influence within the government has waned. The crackdowns were reportedly linked to Taya's efforts to distance himself from Iraq in an effort to curry favour with the US and France.
The 'Nasseriens Historiques', an Arab nationalist group named after former Egyptian leader Abdel Gamal Nasser, has significant influence among many of the eastern tribes, notably the Assaba and the Hodhs, and is reportedly very popular among poor and middle class Arabs. Influential among Beydanes, it was an important pillar of Taya's government. Nasseriens favour a strong central government, oppose privatisation of state enterprises and have disapproved of Taya's overtures to the black community (8). They are also influential within the Union des Travailleurs de Mauritania (UTM), the education system and national security bodies. However, in mid-1997 over 30 Nasseriens were fired from key government posts and several others arrested following the release a Nasserien report critical of the government.. A further 20 members resigned from the PRDS in late October. However, key officials reportedly sympathetic to the Nasseriens still retain key posts in the PRDS and the government. The report, entitled the "Tendance Historique des Nasseriens" by Hamoud Ould Abdi, charged the government with generalised corruption. It followed the government's decision to officially recognise the state of Israel in a move Nasseriens deemed a sell-out to Western and French influence (9). The PRDS youth wing countered that the Nasseriens had allied themselves with Libya in an effort to destabilise the country. Members are often refered to as "Qadhafi's valets" and reportedly count Libya as an ally. They have also been linked to Algeria and Morocco and view Ba'thists as rivals.
D.5 Forces de Liberation Africane de Mauritanie (FLAM)
FLAM, a Dakar-based liberation movement regrouping militant black Mauritanians, carried out sporadic attacks on official targets since its creation in 1983. It accused the government of torturing and killing arrested black leaders in the late 1980s. In recent years, they have abandoned violence. According to AFP, a recent FLAM communique claimed that the hype surrounding the presence of the first black candidate is indicative of the country's "malaise". They further denounced the "candidates of no importance" whose only purpose was to provide credibility to Taya's re-election.
The above information was gathered from IRIN sources, news media and "Africa South of the Sahara 1995" (24th Edition, Europa Pub. Ltd., Oct. 1994). Other sources include:
1) "Background Notes: Mauritania" US Department off State, Bureau of Public Affairs, July 1995. 2) "Saisie de Mauritanie Nouvelles a trois mois de la presidentielle", L'Autre Afrique, 15 au 21 Oct. 1997. 3) Mauritania: Country Profile, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 1996-97. 4) Mauritania: 1st Quarter Report 1997, The Economist Intelligence Unit, pp 30-41. 5) "La Crispation du Pouvoir", Le Nouveau Afrique Asie, No 98, Nov 97. 6) "Former Opposition Party Supports President Taya", Africa No 1, 4 Aug 97. 7) Mauritania: Country Profile, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 1996-97. 8) "La Crispation du Pouvoir", Le Nouveau Afrique Asie, No 98, Nov 97. 9) "La Crispation du Pouvoir", Le Nouveau Afrique Asie, No 98, Nov 97.
Abidjan, 11 December 1997
[The material contained in this communication comes to you via IRIN West Africa, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN IRIN-WA Tel: +225 21 73 66 Fax: +225 21 63 35 e-mail: email@example.com for more information or subscription. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this report, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. IRIN reports are archived on the Web at: http://www.reliefweb.int/emergenc or can be retrieved automatically by sending e-mail to archive@dha..unon.org. Mailing list: irin-wa-weekly]
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 11:02:06 +0000 (GMT) From: UN IRIN - West Africa <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Mauritania: IRIN-WA Election Brief, 11 Dec 97 Message-Id: <Pine.LNX.3.95.971211110058.7040Iemail@example.com>
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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