Mauritania is holding historic elections today, a year after a military junta took power promising to bring democracy. Last August’s coup ended what the army called the ‘totalitarian regime’ of former President Taya. Around 500 observers have overseen a largely unproblematic election process that takes in just over a million voters.
A good start says European delegate Alain Hutchinson: “We think this is only one step in a very long process. You can’t solve all the problems coming out of 30 years of dictatorship; you can’t solve all the problems in one election. So it’s a first step and this step has to be a good one.”
The large but poor West-African Islamic Republic recently discovered significant off-shore oil reserves. Human Rights Groups say these could bring the blessing of prosperity but also the curse of corruption and mismanagement. But with quotas meaning one in five candidates must be women, Mauritania can be an example to other Muslim states according to a party leader. Today’s vote is the first stage of a ‘transition period’ towards democracy that the junta says will take 19 months to complete.