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Mauritania Set for Historic 2nd Round Presidential Vote


Campaigning has wrapped up for the presidential race in Mauritania, and on Sunday Mauritanians will cast their ballot in the first presidential runoff in the nation's history. Many say the first round of balloting, which was widely viewed as free and fair, has given them confidence that Sunday's vote could be a major step forward for a nation whose political history has been riddled with coups and instability. Kari Barber reports from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

In the first round of voting on March 11, none of 19 candidates won the required simple majority. The top two finishers in the first round, former government minister Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi and ex-opposition leader Ahmed Ould Daddah, are facing off Sunday.

Abdellahi won nearly 25 percent of the vote in the first round, and he has received the support of the third and fourth-place candidates. Ould Daddah took just over 20 percent.

European Union election observer Silvia de Felix was present for the first-round. She says she was pleased with the way the voting went then and expects the final vote also to go smoothly.

"We can say that we are ready," she said. "All of our people are deployed to their areas of responsibility. Everything is calm here."

Local journalist Salem Bokari says the apparent success of the first round has given Mauritanians confidence that the election will be fair, unlike past elections that were often marked by charges of fraud.

"All of the international observers gave testimony that the elections were free and fair," added Bokari. "So, now we are confident this round will be the same, and people will feel free to vote for the candidate they want."

In campaign speeches, the two candidates promised to end slavery, which persists despite being banned. They also pledged to fight poverty and racial discrimination in the ethnically diverse nation and made promises as to how they would spend the country's new oil revenue.

Analyst Wolfram Lacher with London-based consulting group Control Risks says voters will demand a lot of whichever candidate wins.

"There will be very high expectations toward the next democratic government," he noted. "It will be difficult for the government to meet these expectations as oil revenues are currently declining."

Lacher says the military junta that overthrew President Maaouya Ould Taya in a bloodless coup in 2005 has made a lot of promises, including a vow to increase public sector wages by about half. Lacher says with lower than expected revenues, the new administration may find it difficult to deliver on these promises.

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