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Africa
Voting ends in Mauritania
Elections are a milestone in the Saharan country's move towards democracy.
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2006 20:18 GMT
This is the first election for Mauritanians since the government was overthrown in 2005
 

Mauritanians voted for a national parliament on Sunday, in the first election since a military junta seized control in 2005.

 
About one million people in the poverty stricken Islamic republic are eligible to vote for 95 members of the national parliament's lower house and 219 local government councillors.
The leader of Mauritania has said his country's elections will be fair and transparent and urged his people to benefit from a "rare opportunity".

Ely Ould Mohammad Vall told Al Jazeera that the upcoming vote represented a chance to change the country's political reality and should not be wasted.

Hundreds of people casted ballots for national and municipal politicians, and many polling stations in the capital stayed open after the 7pm (9:00 GMT) deadline to let everyone vote.

 
The north African country's government has said that the elections will mark an important step towards democracy.

Addressing the Mauritanian people, through an interview with Al Jazeera, Vall said: "I tell them that they are in front of a historic opportunity which is rare in their country and in all the countries in the area where they are.

"Therefore, I tell them 'do not waste it'".

Milestone

A military government deposed Maaouiya Ould Taya, the Saharan country's long-time military leader, in a coup in August 2005 and pledged to usher in democratic reforms aimed at return to civilian rule.

After a constitutional referendum in June, Sunday's local and parliamentary poll comes ahead of planned senatorial elections in January, followed by presidential election in March 2007. 

"I tell them that they are in front of a historic opportunity which is rare in their country"

Ely Ould Mohammad Vall

Vall, the country's military leader, has said he would not stand in any future presidential elections.
 
"I will not run [for presidential elections]. I will respect what I have said and will do what I have said," he confirmed.
 
He said the elections would be "honest and transparent" and carried out under the supervision of the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the Arab League and some US organisations.

Yet some said they aren't sure the new regime will bring change.

"Many [candidates] were there during those two decades, I don't expect anything to change even if the vote can be free," said Sidi Ould Samba, a 39-year-old merchant.

 

Many legislators from Taya's government are standing in the election, though they are outnumbered by new candidates.

German visit

Mohamed Ould Moloud, president of the Union of Forces of Progress and the current rotating head of the opposition Forces of Change for Democracy Coalition, said: "There are positive indications on the neutrality of the administration.

"If this is confirmed on the day of the vote, it will be a success for our democratic experience."

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, visited the Mauritanian capital, Noukachott, on Saturday.

Steinmeier said Mauritania had begun a democratisation process  "under the most difficult conditions" and that he hoped to find areas where Europe and Mauritania could work together to further modernise the country.

Hundreds of observers are on hand for the legislative vote, including representatives from the European Union, the African Union, Islamic organizations and the US-based National Democratic Institute.

 

The Independent Electoral Commission said that "all was in place" in the 2,336 voting booths scattered across the western African country and hailed a campaign that wound up on Friday without any major incident.

Cheikh Camara, the vice president of the country's independent electoral commission, said they will start releasing partial results on Monday, but said error-checking will delay full results until Tuesday, with a second round of legislative voting scheduled for December 3.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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