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Mauritanians Vote in Post-Coup Election


Mauritanians are voting for a post-coup president of the newly oil-producing nation in west Africa. The vote marks the last step in an electoral process set in motion with the overthrow of the country's long-time president Maaouiya Ould Taya in August 2005. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Outgoing military leader Ely Ould Mohamed Vall attracted the biggest crowd when he voted.

He said the military junta he led had come to power with a mission of civilian handover, and that it was accomplishing its duty, by organizing a successful and peaceful vote.

Journalist Salem Bokary was on hand.

"Colonel Vall confirmed that everything is okay, and that the military junta will give the power, and give it to the president elected by Mauritanians this Sunday, or in case of a second round, on March 25," Bokary says.

There are 19 candidates in a crowded and competitive field. A candidate will need more than 50-percent to win outright.

Voting follows a referendum to change the constitution, as well as legislative and municipal elections.

Military leaders, who are not running, have denied persistent accusations they are backing former government minister Sidi Ould Sheik Abdellahi. His main opponent appears to be Ahmed Ould Daddah, the half-brother of the country's post-independence leader, who was himself overthrown in a coup.

Another main candidate is Messaoud Ould Boulkeir, a descendant of former slaves.

He said he went to vote early, despite a sand storm, and having just traveled over a thousand kilometers from the interior of the country.

He tells VOA, he thinks the vote will be better than other presidential elections in Mauritania, which he says were all rigged. But, he says, in a country like Mauritania, not much is needed to influence the way voting goes.

Doubts over whether the process will be free and fair, even if it has been peaceful, are shared by many, according to Mauritanian analyst Racine Sy.

"A lot of people are in an expectant mood, because what we saw during the campaign was a peaceful campaign, but, before that, we had some declaration coming from the head of state that made some people think there could be some trouble," Sy says. "But, anyway, everything is going on in a peaceful way."

A local observer and human-rights activist, Mohamed Ould Yarba, says there were problems during the campaign.

He says the former government minister, Abdellahi, received support from many government officials, as well as preferential treatment from state media.

He says there could be future unrest if there is a perception of too much cheating in compiling results.

Since there are just about one-million registered voters, results are expected to come out in a matter of days, faster than for most other African elections.

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