Gloves come off in Mauritania polls

The gloves have come off in the Mauritanian presidential campaign with a politician close to the country’s leader launching a harsh attack on his main challengers.

Human rights groups complain of a 'climate of harassment'

The manager of Mauritanian President Maawiya Ould Taya’s campaign for re-election has accused the long time leader’s rivals of trying to hoodwink the public.


Hamud Ould Muhammad said late on Monday in the capital Nouakchott that three of the five other presidential hopefuls in the 7 November vote were staggering their campaign rallies to “fool public opinion about their actual ability to mobilise the masses”.


The candidates he attacked were Ahmad Ould Daddah, the long-time opposition leader, Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, the first descendant of slaves to run for president, and former President Muhammad Khuna Ould Haidalla.


Ould Taya, in power in the northwest African desert country since 1984, faces two other minor challengers: Moulaye al-Hasan Jied, an also-ran in 1997 and Aisha Mint Jeddane, the only woman candidate.


Human rights fears


Ould Muhammad recalled that in 2001, during legislative and municipal elections, the opposition was able to compete in only 39 of the country’s 216 districts.


“By what miracle will it hope only two years later to achieve a better score?” he asked.


“On the day of the vote, the lying and cheating will collapse like a house of cards in the face of the people’s will,” he said.


But the New York-based group Human Rights Watch in September warned of a “climate of harassment of opposition members” and voiced fears over the fairness of the upcoming vote in the former French colony.


“On the day of the vote, the lying and cheating will collapse like a house of cards in the face of the people’s will”

Hamud Ould Muhammad,
president’s campaign manager

It noted the arrests of dozens of religious leaders, opposition politicians and social activists on allegations of involvement in “terrorist” activities.


Last Tuesday, as official campaigning was about to begin, the three main opposition candidates reiterated concerns over potential fraud and said they regretted the European Union had not been asked to send observers.


US urges transparency


Ould Muhammad, asked why the electoral authorities had not invited outside observers, said that Mauritania’s democracy was “sufficiently mature”.


“We refuse to be eternally aided in this area,” he said, while adding that diplomats present in Nouakchott and other foreign individuals including journalists could freely observe the polling.


Meanwhile, the US embassy announced an eight-member team of observers had arrived at the weekend and said it hoped the election would take place in “full transparency”.


Opposition candidate and former president Ould Haidalla’s spokesman complained at the weekend the president’s re-election campaign was taking over public buildings and spaces, and the army chief of staff and supreme court chief justice were campaigning on his behalf.


Ould Taya, who seized power in a coup, was elected president in the country’s first multi-party poll in 1992, and re-elected five years later.

Source: AFP