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Mauritania Goes to Polls in Constitutional Referendum


The people of Mauritania are voting in a constitutional referendum aimed at bringing democratic reforms to the West African nation and ending a long history of coup attempts. This is the first nationwide vote since the country's military took control in a bloodless coup last year.

Among the key aspects of the new constitution being proposed to Mauritanian voters is an article that will limit the country's future presidents to two five-year-terms in office.

Many countries in the region currently have similar term restrictions.

In Mauritania, as journalist Salem Bokari explains, many hope the new constitution, if approved, will help bring a semblance of democracy to the country, which has never experienced political change through the ballot box.

"It is a referendum to permit the people to change power by votes and make an end to the totalitarian former regim," he said.

Mauritania's military toppled the former President Maaouiya Ould Taya last August in a bloodless coup. The ousted leader had ruled for two decades, and his overthrow was widely supported by the public. The country has since been ruled by a military junta.

Sunday's referendum is part of a 19-month transitional period that is also to include local and legislative elections in November, and senatorial and presidential polls next year.

Polling for the referendum opened at seven in the morning local time, and Bokari says voting has gone smoothly with what appears to be a high turnout.

"It is quiet. People [are] voting in calm and peace. There [have been] no problems since this morning. The government says possibly the participation will attain more than 80 percent," added Salem Bokari.

Nearly one million Mauritanians are eligible to vote in the referendum. Preliminary results are expected beginning Monday.

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