Colonel Ely Ould Vall Mohamed has promised a free vote
Mauritanians vote in a constitutional referendum on Sunday, 25 June, in a key test of the ruling military council's ability to put the country back on the path to democracy.
What is the referendum about?
The referendum is the first stage in a transitional political timetable announced by Mauritania's military leader, Col Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who came to power last August.
The plan is aimed at making the constitution more democratic and preparing a commission for holding free municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections, which are expected at the end of 2006 and early in 2007.
The referendum proposes limiting a serving president to two consecutive terms in office and a maximum age limit of 75. It also cuts each presidential term from six to five years.
What's the background?
In August 2005, Col Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, 53, a former close military associate and head of the National Security Office, took advantage of President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya's attendance at the funeral of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd to seize power at the head of a 17-member Military Council for Justice and Democracy in a bloodless coup.
He pledged to fight corruption, guarantee freedom of the media, eliminate poverty, alleviate unemployment, handle oil revenues with transparency and promote the role of women and young people in public life.
What brought down the previous regime?
President Taya took office as president in 1984 after a six-year military regime, and was re-elected in 1986, 1992 and 1997.
His presidency was increasingly marked by repression, allegations of electoral fraud, corruption and cronyism, with widespread complaints about the country's new oil wealth being concentrated in a few hands.
How was the coup received?
Col Vall's position as head of National Security put him in a good position to gauge the national mood, and the coup was favourably received by all major political parties, including the governing party.
The African Union, EU and UN expressed initial concerns at the coup.
Col Vall assured diplomats of his intention to restore democracy, and his government has since won international recognition.
The EU subsequently resumed the aid programme it suspended at the time of the coup.
Who supports the referendum?
Major parties back the constitutional amendments, including the governing Rally of Democratic Forces, the Centrist Reformers, the People's Progressive Alliance, the Coalition of Forces for Change, the United Forces of Progress, the Mauritanian Ettajdid Party, the United Forces of Progress, and the Mauritanian Union and Change Party (Hatem), among others.
Who opposes it?
Some small parties and organisations have expressed their opposition to the referendum for a variety of reasons.
These include objections that the constitutional amendments do not go far enough, as well as complaints at the failure to recognize Arabic as the main state language.
Other objections are a refusal to legalise Islamic parties, failure to eliminate slavery and ensure the unmolested return of deportees, and refusal to sever relations with Israel.
Parties likely to either boycott or campaign against the referendum include the Al-Sawab party, the Mauritanian Party for Defending the Environment, SOS-Slavery activists, and the Alliance for Justice and Democracy.
Will the referendum be free and fair?
The military council has promised a free vote.
Col Vall has described the constitutional amendment as the "backbone of political change in the country... and of the programme of the Military Council and the transitional government".
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