By: Allison Kazi, Pace International Law Review, Articles Editor
On July 18, 2009 the former French colony of Mauritania held its presidential election under the close watch of the international community. General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was declared the winner in the first round with just over 52% of the vote.
Over three hundred observers were sent to Mauritania from various nongovernmental organizations, including the African Union, the League of Arab States and the International Organization of the Francophonie. The international community was present to help Mauritania implement a democratic election process. Upon their arrival, they cited several potential problems with the election process, the most troubling of which was the difficulty of distributing ballots to the hard to reach desert regions of the country. In addition, about one in every five, approximately 600,000, Mauritanians are enslaved. They are not allowed to vote unless their masters register them. The observers noted that the addition of these unregistered slaves to the voting population could have greatly affected the election results. The slave population supported Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, a former civil servant, who is called the “Obama of Mauritania.” He had promised to punish slave masters and free slaves. However, Messaoud was beaten out by General Abdel Aziz. Mr. Aziz has been the President of the country since last August, when he staged a military coup ousting the civilian government.
Three of the eight losing candidates filed an appeal with the country’s Constitutional Court, claiming that the election was falsified. They also claim that the international election observers were not experienced enough to judge the transparency of the election. Other diplomats disagree.
Overall, election observers said the election process was satisfactory. The observers presented no proof of fraud or serious polling problems. They congratulated the country and called on opposition politicians to use only “legal means” in contesting the results. It is Mauritania’s hope that they will regain international acceptance following this election. However, the results of the appeal pending in the Constitutional Court could have a great affect on the international community’s view on Mauritania’s path to democracy.