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Polls Close, Counting Begins in Mauritania

Vote counting is underway in Mauritania following Saturday's presidential election. Nine candidates are running to restore constitutional order following last year's coup.

Electoral officials began counting ballot papers immediately after polling stations closed here.

Each clear plastic ballot box was emptied in the polling station in the presence of observers from each candidate. Those observers verify the count by signing-off on the provisional result along with the polling station's supervising official before that total is sent to the Interior Ministry.

It is a vote to return to constitutional rule after a coup eleven months ago toppled the nation's first freely-elected leader.

Yacoub Ould Abdallahi says he wants a president who represents a clear break from the period of coups d'etat.

Opposition candidate Ahmed Ould Daddah ran a campaign asking if voters want to be finished with coups d'etat. The former Central Bank Governor says Mauritanians can end the cycle of coups and transitional governments in favor of a real democracy where decisions are made by voters not soldiers.

General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz led last August's coup and changed the constitution to allow military reservists to run for office before resigning his commission to run for president.

Kumba Bah voted for Aziz because she says he is making the changes that Mauritanians want. That is why she says this election is different from the others.

Aziz ran a populist campaign, calling himself the "Candidate of the Poor" and pledging to lower food and fuel prices. He is also vowing to build more jails so he can imprison his political opponents who he says are corrupt.

El Hassen Ould Beibou says he supports National Assembly President Messaoud Ould Boulkheir because he is expecting him to make a great effort to build a new, more advanced Mauritania.

Boulkheir says the vote is a contest between democracy and those who take power through military force.

Boulkheir and Daddah have both vowed publicly to support the other in a potential run-off against Aziz if no one wins more than 50 percent of the ballots in this first round.

More than 1,200,000 Mauritanians registered to vote. Provisional results are expected Sunday.