Mauritanians go to polls as Ghazouani seeks re-election


Mohamed Ould Ghazouani

Mauritanians head to the polls on Saturday in a presidential election that sees incumbent Mohamed Ould Ghazouani taking on six challengers in the West African desert nation that will soon become a gas producer.

Ghazouani, 67, a former top soldier, has promised to accelerate investments to spur a commodities boom in the country of 5 million people, many of whom live in poverty despite its fossil fuel and minerals wealth.

Elected for a first term in 2019, Ghazouani is widely expected to win Saturday’s vote due to the ruling party’s dominance.

According to Reuters, his six opponents include anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid, who came second in 2019 with over 18 per cent of the vote, lawyer Id Mohameden M’Bareck, economist Mohamed Lemine El Mourtaji El Wafi, and Hamadi Sidi El Mokhtar of the Islamist Tewassoul party.

Some two million people are registered to vote. Key issues for them include fighting corruption and job creation for young people.

If re-elected, Ghazouani has promised a gas-fired power plant from the Greater Tortue Ahmeyin (GTA) offshore gas project, which is on track to start production by the end of the year.

He also pledged to invest in renewable energy and expand gold, uranium, and iron ore mining.

Ghazouani has presided over relative stability since 2019, as Mauritania’s Sahel neighbours, including Mali, struggle with Islamist insurgencies that have led to military coups.

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Mauritania has not recorded a militant attack on its soil in recent years and Ghazouani, who currently chairs the African Union, has promised to manage Islamist threats.

Prominent activist Abeid is challenging Ghazouani on his human rights record and the marginalisation of Mauritania’s Black African population, while El Mokhtar has a following among conservative and religious voters.

Even so, Ghazouani “is likely to win a second term, probably in the first round,” said Carine Gazier, sub-Saharan Africa specialist at the Concerto consultancy.

If no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote, the election would go to a second round.

One opposition supporter in the capital Nouakchott who spoke on condition of anonymity thought Ghazouani might struggle to win outright “if the votes are conducted transparently”.

In the last election, some opposition candidates questioned the credibility of the vote, sparking some small-scale protests.

Polls are scheduled to open at 7:00 am GMT and close at 7:00 pm GMT.

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