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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 November 2006, 17:19 GMT
Q&A: Mauritania elections
Mauritania's head of state, Colonel Mohmaed Ely Ould Vall
Col Vall says he backs democracy

Mauritanians go to the polls on Sunday 19 November to vote in legislative and municipal elections.

Nearly one million Mauritanians from a total population of 3.1m will be eligible to vote for MPs and councillors from at least 25 parties and numerous independent candidates representing a wide cross-current of political views.

Islamist, nationalist and leftist political currents are interwoven with tribal and clan affiliations to present voters with a complex panorama of political choice.

In June this year, a referendum in what is one of Africa's newest oil producers and one of the world's poorest nations, saw Mauritanians vote overwhelmingly in favour of a new constitution limiting the president's mandate to two five-year terms.

Military leader and head of state Col Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, who seized power in a bloodless coup in August 2005, pledged to respect the referendum result and relinquish power peacefully.

At the time of the coup, Col Vall's Military Council for Justice and Democracy pledged to organise free elections within two years.

However, the 11-political-party Coalition of Forces for Democratic Change has accused the military rulers of siding with independent candidates with the aim of weakening political parties.

Who is up for election?

A second and deciding round can be held on 3 December in some cases, for the 95 members of the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, who will serve for a five-year term.

For the National Assembly election, registered political parties have presented 318 lists, while independents have presented 123 lists from which voters can choose.

Municipal councillors will all be elected in the first round, under a proportional representation system. There will be nationwide total of 1,222 municipal lists, 888 which have been presented by political parties and 334 by independents.

Elections for the 56-member upper house, or Senate, are likely to take place early next year - followed by presidential polls.

The system is one of universal suffrage in which the over-18s are entitled to vote.

What do they represent?

Of the 35 legal political parties, the electoral authorities had validated the participation of at least 25 of them by the end of October. But the situation is complicated by a ban on Islamist parties and movements, considered to be among the most popular in the country. This has resulted in many Islamist candidates standing as independents.

Black nationalists are represented by the Party for Liberty, Equality and Justice led by Ousmane Amadou Moctar Dia and the Alliance for Justice and Democracy, led by Cisse Amadou Cheikhou.

Arabic secular nationalism, along Nasserite and Baathist lines, is represented by the the Rally of Democratic Forces and deposed President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya's Democratic and Social Republican Party, among others.

The liberal movement is represented by, among others, the People's Progressive Alliance of Messaoud Ould Boulkheir and the Mauritanian Party for Unity and change, known as HATEM, led by Salah Ould Hanena.

And the leftist current is largely represented by the United Forces of Progress led by Mohamed El Moustapha Ould Beder Dine.

Will there be foreign observers?

Yes. The EU has sent 22 observers to the capital, Nouakchott, to oversee the election. They have been present since the start of the official two-week election campaign which began on 4 November.

What are the issues?

Among the world's poorest nations, Mauritania is a largely desert country with an Arab-Berber population in the north and black Africans to the south. Many of its people are nomads.

The discovery and exploitation of its offshore reserves of oil and natural gas has held out the promise of increased economic prosperity for a country traditionally reliant on drought-proof agriculture and exports of fish and fish products, iron ore and gold.

Its location as a bridge between Muslim North Africa and Christian and animist black Africa places it in a delicate position.

It is one of the few Arabic countries to have recognised Israel and has also cooperated in the US war against terror.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




Compiled by BBC Monitoring

Country profile: Mauritania
14 Nov 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Mauritania
14 Nov 06 |  Country profiles

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