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Mauritania, stable outlier in turbulent region, reelects president

By AFP - Jul 03,2024 - Last updated at Jul 03,2024

NOUAKCHOTT — Mauritania's incumbent President Mohammad Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani has comfortably won reelection at the helm of the vast desert nation, seen as a rock of relative stability in Africa's volatile Sahel region, officials said on Monday.

The former army chief won just over 56 per cent of the vote, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said on Monday, giving him a second five-year term during which Mauritania is set to become a gas producer.

Dozens of supporters massed outside Ghazouani's campaign headquarters in the capital Nouakchott after the final provisional results of Saturday's election were announced.

"I don't know how to express my joy. Our president is a great president. We are very happy," said 56-year-old Bekouma Mohamed.

"I promise to be president of all Mauritanians with no exceptions or discrimination, and to pursue the policy of outreach and concertation, dialogue and partnership with all political actors, including all opponents in the 2024 presidential vote," Ghazouani said in a video statement sent to AFP.

The results must now be sent to the Constitutional Council within 48 hours for confirmation.

Ghazouani, who was the overwhelming favourite to win, would have faced a second round had he not secured more than half the votes.

As it was, he placed well ahead of his main rival, anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid, who won just over 22 per cent.

Abeid, who previously said he would not accept the CENI's results, on Monday denounced "massive fraud" and said he was waiting for his own teams to provide results before launching possible street demonstrations.

"Any protest you make must be peaceful," he told his supporters, according to his campaign's social media account.

Some of Abeid's supporters burnt tyres and disrupted traffic in Nouakchott late Sunday, with a spokesman saying his campaign manager was arrested.

The police presence in the capital increased significantly later in the evening.

A 2019 election brought Ghazouani to power, marking the first transition between two elected presidents since independence from France in 1960 and a series of coups from 1978 to 2008.

While the Sahel has in recent years seen a string of military coups and escalating jihadism — particularly in neighbouring Mali — Mauritania has not experienced an attack since 2011.

Ghazouani, 67, is widely regarded as the mastermind behind the West African state’s relative security.

‘Did everything we could’

Saturday’s vote had an overall turnout of 55.39 per cent, lower than in 2019.

The results had trickled in since Saturday evening and were published continuously by CENI on an official online platform as a transparency measure, giving an indication of the final outcome.

“We did everything we could to prepare the conditions for a good election and we were relatively successful,” electoral commission president Dah Ould Abdel Jelil said Monday as he announced the results.

Ghazouani’s other main rival, Hamadi Ould Sid’ El Moctar, who heads the Islamist Tewassoul party, came third with 12.8 percent, according to CENI.

Ghazouani has made helping youth a priority in a country of 4.9 million people where almost three-quarters are aged under 35.

After a first term hit by the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the incumbent has said he hopes to make more reforms thanks to a favourable economic outlook.

Growth should average 4.9 per cent (3.1 per cent per capita) for the period 2024-2026, according to the World Bank, spurred by the launch of gas production in the second half of this year.

Inflation has fallen from a peak of 9.5 per cent in 2022 to five per cent in 2023, and should continue to slow to 2.5 per cent in 2024.

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