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Polls close in Mauritania, with the West’s incumbent ally favored to win

Polls close in Mauritania, with the West’s incumbent ally favored to win

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) — Polls closed Saturday in Mauritania’s presidential election, with incumbent President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani widely expected to win. He has positioned Mauritania as a strategic ally of the West in a region wracked by coups and violence.

Ghazouni, who is seeking re-election on a promise to deliver security and economic growth, is a former army chief and the current president of the African Union. He came to power in 2019 after the country’s first democratic transition and vowed on Saturday to respect the outcome of the vote.

“The final word belongs to the Mauritanian voters,” Ghazouni said after voting in the capital’s suburb of Ksar. “I commit myself to respect their choice.”

According to observers, the vote on Saturday was peaceful. Turnout was 40% of the 2 million eligible voters, and partial results were expected on Sunday.

“Nothing has been discovered so far and CENI has not received any complaints,” said Taghioullah Ledhem, the spokesman for CENI, the country’s independent electoral commission. But some opposition candidates had a different view.

“We found irregularities such as voting without an identity card, voting by proxy and the expulsion of representatives of opposition candidates,” said Outoma Soumare, one of Ghazoumi’s opponents.

Although his opponents accused him of corruption and mismanagement, he remains popular among Mauritanians who see him as a beacon of stability. The vote takes place in a particularly tense regional climate, with Mauritania’s neighbors rocked by military coups and jihadist violence.

“We should not be misled by the candidates’ slogans that are not reassuring,” said Marième Brahim, a 38-year-old business leader who voted for Ghazouni. “Mauritania must vote for continuity and stability and its security in a troubled environment and it is not these candidates without administrative experience who will give us confidence.”

Ghazouani faced six opponents, including an anti-slavery activist, leaders of several opposition parties and a neurosurgeon. They accused the government of corruption and clientelism.

Mauritania is rich in natural resources such as iron ore, copper, zinc, phosphate, gold, oil and natural gas. The country is poised to become a gas producer by the end of the year, with the planned launch of the BP-operated Greater Tortue Ahmeyin offshore gas project on the border with Senegal.

Yet nearly 60% of the population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, working as farmers or in the informal sector. With few economic opportunities for young people at home, many try to cross the Atlantic Ocean to reach Europe, and some even try to reach the United States via Mexico.

Mohamed Lemine Ould Moktar, 45, voted for an opposition candidate and has two young sons who are still unemployed despite their university degrees.

“I just voted for change. We’ve had enough of identical regimes that squander the people’s wealth and perpetuate corruption,” Ould Moktar said. “Just look at the more than 40,000 young Mauritanians who are taking the path of immigration to the United States by jumping the border wall between Mexico and the United States. That’s why I’m voting for change.”

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AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

Ahmed Mohamed, The Associated Press