Brief analysis of and thoughts on the 18 July, 2009 elections as things stand on 20 July, 2009. Corroborated through contacts in Mauritania, Algeria and the US.
1. Opposition reactions: When the polls closed, women who had not made it out early enough to vote broke into tears on the street. Initially, the opposition was optimistic: the two leading candidates, Messaoud Boulkheir and Ahmed Ould Daddah had strong grassroots campaigns; they benefited from widespread dislike for the junta leader and leading candidate Mohamed Abdel Aziz. And then reality struck.
It started not long after the preliminary results were released. In almost every way and in every region the results matched neither expectations nor what Mauritanians knew as the reality around them. A veteran Nouadhibou politician of twenty years, and who had run for and held local offices there, described the results in shock. In all sixty-five districts in the northern-coastal region, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz lead the nearest challenger by the same margin in every district. In Trarza, home to opposition candidate Ahmed Ould Daddah and a base of anti-General sentiment, Ould Abdel Aziz was shown to have a 60% majority in Boutilimit, a RFD stronghold, in the preliminary results. Ould Daddah eventually won there, but only by a slight margin. The results are predictable throughout most of the country: the same ordering of candidates and the same result: Ould Abdel Aziz, Boulkheir and Ould Daddah. Messaoud Boulkheir’s campaign rejected the results before counting had finished. Even some in his campaign admitted that he had come in second place in districts they had not expected to. Ould Abdel Aziz won majorities in unexpected places, Trarza, Brakna, Assaba and other opposition hinterlands. One Mauritanian said it was as if George Bush had won Massachusetts.
There is a sense of impending doom and impotence one the part of many in the opposition: “he has done it to us,” an opposition hand remarked. “We might have to suffer him for another forty years.” The general view is that Ould Abdel Aziz plans on establishing himself as president and tossing out as many rivals as possible. There are fears and expectations (which must be distinguished from one another) of “witch hunts” and purges of “corrupt” officials and opposition leaders and financiers. All of the campaigns were backed by at a few well known “thieves”: the hypocrisy here is that by the count of those concerned Ould Abdel Aziz’s “list” of grafters is at least twice as long as those of any of the other major candidates. He is being called “Abdel Aziz and the Fifty-Seven Thieves”.
2. Fraud? The opposition view is that the results were pre-meditated and drawn up before the polls opened. Voters used paper ballots marked with indelible ink. RFD sources appear to believe that ballots were chemically altered, such that ink would process in Ould Abdel Aziz’s “box” and not those of others.The Ould Daddah campaign has released a video of a “fraud factory,” where Ould Abdel Aziz supporters forging national ID cards on photocopy machines and toying with electoral lists. Viollette Daguerre, the Chairwoman of the Arab Committee on Human Rights believes that the process was “altered”. She told Aljazeera of “violations in the process” and registered her “surprise” at Ould Abdel Aziz’s first round victory. What is more is that she remarked that she saw with her own eyes “precinct managers applying the law loosely in comparing names on IDs and voting lists . . . some were allowed to vote without ink on their fingers,” thereby allowing for multiple votes by the same person. She observed that precinct managers were “strict on some voters and lax on others” and that candidates’ representatives complained about the “authoritarianism of precinct heads.” She further mentioned the absence of international observers from the UN, EU and NDI as a result of the lack of the minimum requirements for transparency, that those Arab League, African Union and Francophonie (one might add the OIC to the list) “are affiliated to political bodies,” and that they represented the interests of “influential countries in these organizations,” speaking of Libya’s close relationship to Ould Abdel Aziz and saying that Sarkozy’s administration “voted for the coup d’etat” and that “the leader of the French observers Bernard Dupre is a close friend of Mohamed Ould Bouamatou,” a well known Ould Abdel Aziz supporter, and had said that “Bouamatou could be a good candidate for president”. This is a most accurate summation of the problem with the elections: no credible supervision and credulous supervision from predatory actors.
3. The logic of fraud: In a previous post, it was written here that Ould Abdel Aziz favored a first round victory to avoid facing the combined efforts of the opposition in a second round contest. There was little in the weeks leading up to the election that should have suggested his victory on 18 July. From information from people in Mauritania to data collected by the government to the tone of the opposition campaigns suggested an all together different picture of what ought to have happened had there been a fair contest. The only evidence favoring the outcome that did transpire was Ould Abdel Aziz’s prediction of his own victory and his refusal to decline the possibility of his launching yet another coup were he not to win. Given the ability of the opposition to show massive force on 17 July (recall the 80,000 and 20,000 person rallies of Ould Daddah and Boulkheir, respectively; and do not forget Ould Abdel Aziz’s 2,000 supporter barbecue) and the projections that came from the Gendarmerie at around the same time, Ould Abdel Aziz must surely have calculated that victory anywhere outside of the first round would be impossible or exceptionally difficult to fudge, let alone actually win. Foreign reporters in Nouakchott and experts elsewhere also saw his prospects for a first round victory “unlikely”.
4. International responses: Thus far, Ould Abdel Aziz has received congratulations only from the King of Morocco, a long term backer of his coup. It is likely that France will recognize the results, and many in the opposition are wondering whether France (or French agents) played a roll in whatever skulduggery may have gone on. The Senegalese, who negotiated the compromise that resulted in the elections (and who are widely thought to have been acting on France’s behalf), are likely to follow suit. It is believed by many that the Dakar Accords were a “kiss of death” for the entire enterprise.
There are three other states of consequence that will welcome the results: Libya, Iran and China. The first two made themselves friendly with the junta last winter and early spring, trading financial assistance to the then isolated junta for the expulsion of the Israeli Embassy staff. Libya, as head of the African Union, attempted to bring coups back into fashion on the continent by sending warm salutations to the putschists in Madagascar, Guinea and (with ceremony) Mauritania. Colonel al-Qadhafi hosted a series of talks between junta and opposition representatives, culminating in his much despised visit to Nouakchott. It yielded close to nothing on any front but bought the junta time and put Ould Abdel Aziz on Libya’s “friend” list. This was the result of Ould Abdel Aziz’s harsh talk during the Gaza crisis. Also a result of those efforts were Iran’s well wishings, offered up in the form of cash and promises to help improve the Mauritanian medical, pharmaceutical and military sectors. China cares little about who is in power in Nouakchott or how he got there, so long as its long term investments are protected and the long standing Mauritanian policy on Taiwan does not change.
Among those who are likely to reject the results or keep shut on it are the Algerians, and this is especially likely to be the case in light of Morocco’s endorsement. Following them will be South Africa and several other sub-Saharan states. The Americans are also in this bucket: there is no love for General Ould Abdel Aziz in Washington. To the extent that he has been remarked upon in the American press, he has been portrayed as an anti-Israel zealot at worst and a vicious opportunist at best. His obnoxiousness was crystallized at the very least when the visas for the Peace Corps Volunteers in Mauritania were refused; his alliance with Libya and Iran only add to the irritation. He will attempt to repair his relations with the Americans soon enough, but whether this will go as easily as he would hope is uncertain.
It is also possible to see the Americans going along with the French consensus. In such a case normalcy would return at an international level. There is no guarantee that the Americans will commit to their previous policy: Mauritania is low on their list of priorities and irritation with its current leadership its heavy in the bureaucracy but not at the top. To adopt the French position is the best prospect for wiping the problem under the rug and require less work and effort on Washington’s part in the short term. Still, Ould Abdel Aziz has no advocates in the United States and little, if any, public sympathy for him. There are few hard economic interests from the United States to sand in the way of prudence. There is close to nothing aside from the hardheaded laziness and narrow interests of political appointees to stand in the way of an American policy that considers the long term stability of Mauritania ahead of the shortsightedness of its obscurity.
5. Legitimacy: The legitimacy of whatever order Ould Abdel Aziz seeks to establish will depend on how Mauritanians continue to react to the election and how the international community continues to respond to it. One hears from some that there are Mauritanians who do not believe that the country can sustain further crisis and that accepting Ould Abdel Aziz’s leadership would provide a desirable alternative to the drama that has characterized Mauritania’s circumstances over the last four years. Stability under Ould Abdel Aziz is better than chaos without him or with ever more government and opposition quibbles or coups. At present there are demonstrators on the streets in Nouakchott, Atar and Nouadhibou, both pro and contra the results. Alternatively, though, there are some who see the only path out of the situation as a particularly radical one. The radical portions of the opposition, in moments of frustration, explain that Ould Abdel Aziz as a personality is the problem that has faced Mauritania since 2005 and that he needs to be removed from the vicinity of power, from the presidency, from the military out into the desert ot someplace else away from the locus of power. If either attitude towards the election’s legitimacy comes to predominate, the country will be in for an interval of undesirability. One might also add that constitutionally, Ould Abdel Aziz not even eligable to be president: he was not born in Mauritania, but in Senegal, thus placing his leadership in violation of the constitution (the same would have been true of Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, had he won). Questions about the government’s legitimacy and its intentions will persist in light of the election results, perhaps even inspite of them.