Mauritania opposition candidates challenge presidential election result

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Three losing candidates in Mauritania’s presidential election lodged an appeal late on Tuesday alleging irregularities in the vote, won by the ruling party that has positioned itself as an ally of the West against Islamist militants.

A man casts his vote at a polling station during presidential election in Nouakchott, Mauritania June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Media Coulibaly

Mauritania’s electoral commission declared last week that government-backed candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani had won the presidency with 52% of the vote. Anti-slavery campaigner Biram Dah Abeid came second with 18.58%, while Mohamed Ould Boubacar, who is backed by Mauritania’s biggest Islamist party, was third with 17.85%.

Abeid, Boubacar and fifth-placed candidate Mohamed Ould Maouloud said on Wednesday they had filed an appeal with the Constitutional Council a day earlier, saying the results were not credible.

“We noted that there was multiple voting and many other irregularities,” Abeid said during a joint press conference in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott.

Opposition candidates had previously voiced concern about ballot papers being printed by a private company said to be pro-Ghazouani. Boubacar has also complained about a lack of international observers.

The African Union, which promotes democracy, human rights and development on the continent, has said it was satisfied with the electoral process. They rarely challenge electoral outcomes.

The largely peaceful election was the first in Mauritania’s history to choose a successor to a democratically elected president. The sparsely populated Saharan nation won independence from France in 1960.

Former general and defense minister Ghazouani campaigned on continuing economic and security progress made under outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who took power in a 2008 coup and won elections in 2009 and 2014.

In the wake of the election, small-scale protests have erupted in Nouakchott this week, leading to the arrest of 100 people, according to the interior ministry.

Interior Minister Ahmedou Ould Abdalla, who announced the arrests, said “foreign hands” were plotting against the state, but did not give further details.

Opposition leader Abeid said those detained were from Mali, Senegal and Gambia, accusing the authorities of seeking to stir up a diplomatic row with Mauritania’s southern neighbors.

The Constitutional Council is expected to review the appeals and make a ruling by the end of the week.

Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Catherine Evans