A man watches a screen showing first-round election results at the headquarters of Mauritania's National Independent Electoral Commission in Nouakchott, June 23 2019. Picture: SIA KAMBOU/ AFP
A man watches a screen showing first-round election results at the headquarters of Mauritania's National Independent Electoral Commission in Nouakchott, June 23 2019. Picture: SIA KAMBOU/ AFP

Nouakchott — Government candidate and frontrunner Mohamed Ould Ghazouani has won an absolute majority in the first round of Mauritania’s presidential election, with nearly all votes counted, the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni) said on Sunday.

With counting completed in 3,729 of a total of 3,861 polling stations, the 62-year-old former head of the domestic security service won 51.5% of the vote, according to data published on Ceni’s website.

Ghazouani had already declared himself the winner in the early hours of Sunday in the presence of current president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, his supporters and journalists.

The ballot is the first in Mauritania’s coup-strewn history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and transfer power to an elected successor, although the opposition has raised concerns the vote could perpetuate a government dominated by military figures.

Turnout

About 1.5-million people were eligible to vote on Saturday in the vast, predominantly Muslim state, which is approximately twice the size of former colonial power France and has a population of just 4.5-million. Turnout was 62.68%, Ceni said.

Out of the other five candidates, Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid came second with 18.58% of the votes and Mohamed Ould Boubacar followed in third place with 17.82%, the Ceni data showed.

Preliminary results had originally been expected on Monday.

Ceni said in a statement that it would continue compiling the results from across the West African desert country before handing them over to the Constitutional Council.

In the meantime, it said it “advises the candidates to show prudence and restraint”, and hoped the calm climate seen during the campaign and on voting day would prevail.

Both Abeid and Boubacar had complained of balloting irregularities and the expulsion of representatives from some polling stations. However, Ceni said no major problems had been reported.

Abeid hit out at Ghazouani’s claim of victory “while the vote counting is still going on”. “Ghazouani’s announcement constitutes a falsehood,” he said.

Ghazouani,  who campaigned on the themes of continuity, solidarity and security for the Saharan nation, served as Abdel Aziz’s chief of staff from 2008 to last year.

The outgoing president is a general who originally came to power in a 2008 coup, won elections a year later and was again elected in 2014 in polls boycotted by the opposition.

Abdel Aziz, who has repeatedly warned that the country could fall back into instability if his chosen candidate is not elected, is credited with reforming the army, clamping down on jihadists and pushing to develop remote regions.

Nevertheless, rights groups have accused the government of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, while calling on the nation to do more to counter slavery, which persists in the deeply conservative state although it was officially abolished in 1981, and violence against women.

Authorities rejected an opposition request for foreign observers at the election.

All of the candidates promised improvements in the standard of living, though economic growth at 3.6% in 2018 is insufficient to meet the needs of a fast-growing population, according to the World Bank.

The World Bank has welcomed the “macro-economic stabilisation” of the country, where annual growth is expected to average 6.2% between 2019 and 2021. But it has called for barriers to be removed in the private sector, pointing in particular to corruption, as well as difficult access to credit.

AFP