Ruling party candidate declared winner of Mauritania election

Mohamed Ould Ghazouani won election on Sunday, with 52% of the vote

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 20, 2019 Mauritania's ruling party's candidate, ex-general Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed, also known as Ould Ghazouani delivering a speech as he attends his last campaign meeting for the upcoming presidential elections, on June 20, 2019 in Nouakchott. Mauritania's ruling party candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani has won the presidential election with 52 percent of the vote, the electoral commission announced on June 23, 2019, with results from all polling stations counted. Ghazouani obtained 52.01 percent of votes cast in June 22,  presidential election, easily beating his main opposition opponents Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid (18.58 percent) and Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar (17.87 percent), according to the official figures.
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Mauritania’s government-backed candidate, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, won the presidential election on Sunday, cementing the power of a ruling party that has allied itself to the West against militants.

The electoral commission declared Mr Ghazouani winner late on Saturday with 52 per cent of the vote.

His nearest rival, anti-slavery campaigner Biram Dah Abeid, came second with 18.58 per cent, while third-placed candidate Mohamed Ould Boubacar, who is backed by Mauritania’s biggest Islamist party, received 17.85 per cent.

The election was the first since the sparsely populated Saharan nation’s independence from France in 1960 to choose a successor to a democratically elected president.

None of the three remaining candidates received more than 10 per cent of the vote.

Mr Ghazouani has campaigned on continuing economic and security progress made under departing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, 62, who took the helm in a 2008 coup then won elections in 2009 and 2014.

Under his leadership, the economy has grown and will receive an extra boost when a large offshore gasfield starts producing early next decade.

Hours earlier, government spokesman Sidi Mohamed Ould Maham had declared Mr Ghazouani “president-elect” and opposition candidates represented by Mr Abeid said they would contest the results.

“This seems like a coup d’etat,” Mr  Abeid said on behalf of opposition candidates. “We are united and will lead the contest.”

The election has been largely peaceful, apart from some regions of the capital city, Nouakchott, where earlier on Sunday protesters burnt tyres and rubbish before police dispersed them.

Mr Abdel Aziz surprised many of his compatriots and international observers by stepping aside after serving the maximum of two five-year elected terms in Mauritania, a country of fewer than 5 million people comprising a large chunk of the western Sahara Desert.

His decision bucked a trend in which African leaders, including in Rwanda and Congo Republic, have changed or abolished term limits to cling to power.

Despite his economic record, Mr Abdel Aziz has been criticised for not facing up to Mauritania’s most searing injustice, the persistence of slavery.

Tens of thousands of black Mauritanians still live as domestic slaves, rights groups say, usually to lighter-skinned masters.

The practice was abolished in 1981 and criminalised in 2007, the year before Mr Abdel Aziz took power.

He has made pronouncements denying that slavery is widespread.

Mr Abeid, a descendant of slaves, campaigned partly on this platform. He and other opposition leaders also sought to tap into youth anger at high unemployment.