From The Economist print edition
A coup-maker becomes a civilian president
ALMOST a year after General Muhammad Ould Abdelaziz took power at the head of a military junta, he has stripped off his uniform and got himself elected as Mauritania’s civilian president. Various governments and international bodies, led by the African Union (AU), at first denounced his coup. Now they seem likely to welcome Mauritania fully back into the community of democracies.
Mr Abdelaziz won nearly 53% of the votes cast in the first round of an election on July 18th, forgoing the need for a run-off. His main rival, Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, who had been the parliament’s speaker, strongly opposing last year’s coup, got only 16%, ahead of three other candidates. He called Mr Abdelaziz’s victory an “electoral coup d’état” and said there had been massive fraud. But observers from the AU, the Arab League (of which Mauritania is a member) and the International Francophone Organisation endorsed the result.
Once Mauritania’s Constitutional Court approves, the old regime in new clothes under the original coup-maker is expected to repair its relations with the AU, the European Union (EU) and the United States, as well as the World Bank and the IMF. All these governments and bodies will argue that, thanks to the poll, they have not, in fact, endorsed a coup.
Mauritania has had a chequered history. One of the world’s poorest countries, it has been plagued by drought, locusts, and a lot of military coups. Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya ran the show from 1984-2005. In 2007 the country held its first fully democratic presidential poll. But a year later its current leader seized power from Sidi Muhammad Ould Sheikh Abdellahi, who had been recognised as the country’s legitimate leader after a genuine election victory only a year before.
As a result, development aid and a number of trade deals had been frozen and Mauritania’s membership of the AU suspended. General Abdelaziz, as he then was, found himself facing threats of sanctions from the AU and the EU unless “constitutional order” returned. Despite Libya’s and Qatar’s mediating efforts, the main opposition rejected the general’s proposal for a fresh election. In the end, Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, brokered a deal. Mr Abdellahi formally resigned, a transitional unity government briefly took shape, and the coup-maker got his democratic mandate. But it is not yet clear if ordinary Mauritanians think they have got a decent deal.