Mauritania is wrapping up campaigning in a post-coup presidential election. The vote will mark the end of a long transitional period and the advent of civilian rule, following a bloodless military takeover in 2005. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Dakar.

After a referendum followed by municipal and legislative elections, Mauritanians will get to choose a new president on Sunday.

As promised, none of the 19 candidates in a crowded and competitive field is part of the military junta that ruled following the overthrow of long-standing President Maaouiya Ould Taya.

West Africa analyst Richard Reeve says the result is difficult to predict. "The frontrunners are really the leaders of the main parties, represented in the former opposition coalition," said Reeve. "The chief of them is Ahmed Ould Daddah, the leader of the largest party in that coalition. He is also the younger brother of a former president, Mauritania's founding president [Moktar Ould Daddah]."

Other favorites include former Marxist Mohamed Ould Miloud; the youngest candidate, 41-year-old economist Zeine Ould Zeidane; Messaoud Ould Boukheir, a descendant of former slaves; and former rebel leader Saleh Ould Henenna.

Reeve says many of these candidates have accused the military junta of favoring another candidate, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi, 69, a former government minister.

"I think it is quite possible that they lean toward someone they trust," said Reeve. "I think part of the problem is that there are various interest groups that have to be appeased by the outcome of these elections, principally among them the military.

"Before this coup, the government was very much military based and had been since the late 1970s," he continued. "The feeling at the moment is that the leading candidates from the former opposition are people that the military would not get on with, raising the possibility of more instability in the future."

Many of the candidates have campaigned on identical programs of better governance, more economic empowerment and transparency as the country moves more into newfound oil production.

Many candidates have also said they would cut ties with Israel, a development which would not surprise another West Africa analyst, David Hartwell.

"When the military government took over, I think the military government took the view that it was not the elected government, therefore it would leave any radical policy changes to any new government that was to be elected," said Hartwell. "Most Mauritanians do not support the maintenance of diplomatic relations with Israel. One would expect any new government to sever relations with Israel once it is elected."

One of the candidates, Henenna, has called for the freeing of imprisoned Islamic radicals, leading to concerns from some analysts that the election could lead to an Islamization of Mauritania, which straddles Arab and black Africa.

Others fear Mauritanians could vote along racial lines, highlighting the plight of ethnic black Moors, who were former slaves of white Moors, who dominate the country politically and economically.

Sunday's vote also comes against the backdrop of new warnings from the World Food Program that 60,000 children risk starvation in remote areas of the sparsely populated, mostly desert nation.