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Reactions Are Mixed After Mauritania Election Date Announcement

Mauritanians are reportedly reacting with cautious optimism after the national assembly approved plans yesterday to hold a free and fair presidential election within 12-14 months. But some political observers are skeptical the plan would potentially prevent the military ruler who staged last month's coup from standing. General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz who seized power last month and ousted the country's first democratically elected president previously promised not to participate in the election. But his refusal to rule himself and fellow members of the military junta out of the elections has alienated some opposition parties who had initially supported the coup de'tat.

However, the restrictions on members of the military junta would only apply to those serving when they registered for elections, clearing the way for Abdel Aziz to quit the army and stand. Kabiru Mato is a political science professor at the University of Abuja. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from Kaduna State in Nigeria that the legitimacy of the national assembly is doubtful.

"First if all, I really don't know the efficacy of the national assembly existing under a military rule. It appears that it is a situation that is rather unfortunate; it is a situation that one would comfortably say is apparently defying the normal political or democratic convention as we know it," Mato said

He said although the credibility if the national assembly is doubtful, Mauritanians could welcome its move for setting the parameters for an election date.

"For the assembly to come up and bring up a resolution that there should be an election as soon as possible I think it is a welcome development, which perhaps the people of Mauritania should rally round and try to cash in with the possibilities of having perhaps another round of election that would see Mauritania join the league of other African countries that are having democratic systems of government. But the confusing aspect of it is that I really would find it difficult to really comprehend the legitimacy of perhaps a parliament subsisting under a military dictatorship," he noted.

Mato said it is hard to believe the leader of the military junta would live up to his promises not to participate in a democratic presidential election.

"It has always been the strategy of military leaders in Africa. They first color they paint, as you now, is that we will try to organize free fair and credible elections of which we are not going to participate. But they will create a scenario whereby the very gullible political class within the society will apparently be fronting for them and creating a very complicated scenario. That has happened in Nigeria and that has happened in so many Africa countries where some hired or rented crowd will be created to make it look as if it is the desire of the citizens that such military men should remove their uniforms and contest elections," Mato pointed out.

Meanwhile, both the United States and the European Union, who are key donors and business partners of Mauritania, have repeatedly demanded President Abdallahi's release and restoration to power.

Mato however said the military junta would pay little heed to the demand by both the United States and European Union.

"That's not possible because it is only possible if that political statement is matched by certain basic physical threats. If the military junta does not see the possibility of perhaps being forced out of power, and perhaps by African Union or any other stronger force within the western or Central or West African sub-region it would be difficult for the military government to just cave in as a result of that threat by the European Union and by the Americans," Mato said.

He said the African Union and the international community could pile pressure on the military junta to allow the ousted president to stand for re-election.

"The only thing now is, I think, what the political class in Mauritania and what the African Union and the world at large should try to do is to ensure that perhaps the ousted president is not really denied the possibilities of having another ballot or going on another ballot," he said.