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Islamists poised to win seats in Mauritanian parliament

AFP

Mauritanians voted in a weekend election boycotted by most of the radical opposition. While President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is expected to retain power, the Islamist party Tewassoul on Sunday also looked poised to win seats in parliament.

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A formerly banned Islamist party that wants to establish Sharia law looked poised to win seats in Mauritania’s parliament following the weekend election, analysts said Sunday, as elections officials began releasing early results of the vote.

It was the first time legislative polls had been held since President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz took power in a coup in 2008. The vote went forward despite a boycott by 10 out of 11 of the parties in the radical-opposition coalition, who called the vote an “electoral masquerade”.

President Aziz, of the Union for the Republic party, is expected to retain power. But the Islamist Tawassoul party will also win legislative seats for the first time, according to Mohamed Ould Mokhtar, a professor of political science at the University of Nouakchott. The party was banned until 2007.

The election commission said Saturday that turnout was at 60 percent and that results were expected by the middle of this week.

Tewassoul is associated with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and is slightly more moderate than the country’s most extreme jihandist fringe. It is the only member of the radical 11-party coalition Coordination of Democratic Opposition (COD) to take part in the poll.

Next to Mali on the west coast of the Sahara, Mauritania’s location and its majority Muslim population make it a strategic player in a region that has been labeled an Al Qaeda hotbed.

The West considers it a bulwark against rising extremism, though Mauritania’s recent history has been marked by instability. A year after Aziz took power, he won a widely contested presidential vote that was never accepted by the radical Islamist opposition.

Aziz hopes to gain legitimacy for his party by garnering a decisive win in the presidential, parliamentary and local elections, which include about 1,500 candidates and 74 parties representing the administration and a so-called “moderate” opposition.

“I think these elections today are a victory for democracy in my country,” Aziz said after visiting his local polling booth in Nouakchott.

Tewassoul, on the other hand, called Saturday’s elections a “struggle against dictatorship”.

Around a third of Mauritania’s 3.4 million people are eligible to vote. The COD says that it expects a “relatively large” proportion of the electorate to heed its call for a boycott.

But the effects of the boycott might be hard to disentangle from other causes of voter disengagement. According to a poll this month by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, only 35 percent of Mauritanians interviewed believed that politicians listen to the people.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)
 

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