Mauritanians have begun voting in a presidential poll boycotted by the major opposition parties, with incumbent President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz widely expected to hold on to power.

Analysts said the main challenge for Abdel Aziz would be to persuade enough voters to turn out for the presidential vote and give him a strong mandate. 

Al Jazeera's Menem Elamrani, reporting from Nouakchott, said polling went smoothly in the capital on Saturday and that there was "no doubt" Abdel Aziz would win.

Abdel Aziz, a former army general, came to power in August 2008 when he ousted President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi, the country's first democratically elected president.

Abdel Aziz then won a 5-year term in a 2009 election that was heavily criticised by the opposition.

No major rivals

The bulk of the opposition boycotted last year's parliamentary elections and talks to try to persuade them to take part in Saturday's vote broke down in April, leaving Abdel Aziz no major rivals.

The four challengers are former government minister Boidel Ould Houmeid, anti-slavery campaigner Biram Ould Abeid, Ibrahima Sarr, a challenger from the 2009 vote, and Mint Moulaye Idriss, an administrator at Mauritania's national press agency and the country's second female candidate.

Two weeks of campaigning ended late on Thursday having failed to rouse much enthusiasm across the country, where just over 1.3 million people are eligible to vote.

Our correspondent said Abdel Aziz was running on a platform stating that since he came to power, Mauritania has become a better place.

"He said there are no more terrorist cells, and that Mauritania is well considered by its neighbours and by Western allies," Elamrani said.

This summer, Abdel Aziz will co-chair an American-African Summit to be held in the US alongside President Barack Obama.

A runoff vote will be held on June 5 if no candidate gets the majority needed in the first round. 

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies