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Mauritania president re-elected in stable outlier in turbulent region

Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, president of Mauritania and leader of the Union for the Republic, waves to supporters celebrating his reelection in Nouakchott on July 01, 2024.
Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, president of Mauritania and leader of the Union for the Republic, waves to supporters celebrating his reelection in Nouakchott on July 01, 2024.

Mauritania's incumbent President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani has comfortably won re-election at the helm of the vast desert nation, seen as a rock of relative stability in Africa's volatile Sahel region.

The former army chief won just over 56% of the vote, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said Monday, giving him a second five-year term during which Mauritania is set to become a gas producer.

Dozens of supporters massed outside Ghazouani's campaign headquarters in the capital Nouakchott after the final provisional results of Saturday's election were announced.

"I don't know how to express my joy. Our president is a great president. We are very happy," said 56-year-old Bekouma Mohamed.
The results must now be sent to the Constitutional Council within 48 hours for confirmation.

Ghazouani — who was the overwhelming favorite to win — would have faced a second round had he not secured more than half the votes.
As it was, he placed well ahead of his main rival, anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid, who won just over 22%.

Abeid, who previously said he would not accept CENI's results, on Monday decried "massive fraud" and said he was waiting for his own teams to provide results before launching possible street demonstrations.

"Any protest you make must be peaceful," he told his supporters, according to his campaign's social media account.

Some of Abeid's supporters burned tires and disrupted traffic in Nouakchott late Sunday, with a spokesman saying his campaign manager was arrested.

The police presence in the capital increased significantly later in the evening.

Map of Mauritania
Map of Mauritania

The interior minister warned late Sunday that he would "not tolerate any action likely to disturb the peace and tranquility of our citizens and residents."

A 2019 election brought Ghazouani to power, marking the first transition between two elected presidents since independence from France in 1960 and a series of coups from 1978 to 2008.

While the Sahel has in recent years seen a string of military coups and escalating jihadism, particularly in Mali, Mauritania has not experienced an attack since 2011.

Ghazouani, 67, is widely regarded as the mastermind behind the West African state's relative security.

Saturday's poll had an overall turnout of 55.39%, lower than in 2019.

The results had trickled in since Saturday evening and were published continuously by CENI on an official online platform as a transparency measure, giving an indication of the final outcome.

"We did everything we could to prepare the conditions for a good election and we were relatively successful," president of the electoral commission, Dah Ould Abdel Jelil, said Monday as he announced the results.

Ghazouani's other main rival, Hamadi Ould Sid' El Moctar, who heads the Islamist Tewassoul party, came third with 12.8%, according to CENI.

Ghazouani has made helping the young a key priority, in a country of 4.9 million people where almost three quarters are aged under 35.
After a first term hit by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the incumbent says he hopes to make more reforms thanks to a favorable economic outlook.

Growth should average 4.9% (3.1% per capita) for the period 2024-2026, according to the World Bank, spurred by the launch of gas production in the second half of this year.

Inflation has fallen from a peak of 9.5% in 2022 to 5% in 2023 and should continue to slow to 2.5% in 2024.