Why Ely Vall was a non-factor

It was written previously that, contrary to the views of some observers and media outlets (though not the BBC, mentioned him as an “also running” candidate), Ely Ould Mohamed Vall was not ever a serious contender in the election in Mauritania on 18 July last. There was a belief among some reporters, without a strong foundation in fact or the general Mauritanian sentiment, that Vall is or was some kind of political force in and of himself. As the face of the 2005 coup, the Good Coup, he is associated with the transition to democracy. In a way similar to how Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdellahi was portrayed with great sympathy in Western media for his being the “first democratically elected president” of Mauritania, Vall was seen like a facilitator of civilian rule. In reality, both men were faces for stronger forces within the military clique that launched the 2005 coup. And most Mauritanians were well aware of this.

So why was he not to be “regarded as a serious challenger“? That the results were tampered with has been mentioned, and will continue to be. Still, to deflate Vall’s numbers would not have required a magnificent feat of engineering, such as it did to set up the “fraud factory” that helped to conspire against the other, major candidates. The posting here on the fellow described his record, unpopular with the public and alienated among the elite for his forked tongue. An additional element, which was perhaps under-emphasized there but was touched on in later postings here, was the tribal component. He is a “cousin” of Ould Abdel Aziz, hailing from the same Oulad Bou S’ba’a tribe and having collaborated with the General (then a Colonel) and others in 2005 to unseat the dictator Ould Taya. He enjoys the patronage of the head family in Qatar, who see him as a democrat worthy of trust. The French view him as a conscientious steward of their interests in the country. And yet he won only 3.81% of the vote nationally. In no region did his share exceed 8%. Though he was among the first to shout of fraud, few Mauritanians view him with sympathy or see his complaints as relevant and credulous.

His chances might have been greater had he had a modicum of tribal support: the Oulad Bou S’ba’a are the country’s second wealthiest tribe. As has been said here, somewhat tongue and cheek, is that members of this tribe have historically own rental car and busing services. These were by all accounts well used by Aziz’s campaign, not just to transport legitimate supporters to their polling stations, but also to bring those looking to vote where they did not belong or heading back for “seconds” (or more). For good measure, Vall has his own such companies, along with other capital producing industries. But given that the Oulad Bou S’ba’a so aggressively backed the younger cousin. It is said that by those who watched the count in the polling station where Vall and his immediate family voted, only one vote was counted for the former Colonel. The implication, the observer said was either that (a) he has a troubled home life, or (b) he was subject to the most embarrassing sort of subversion. It is probably a combination of both. Early on, the junta sought means of undermining his candidacy not because he posed a threat to Ould Abdel Aziz, but likely as a way of marginalizing him within the tribe and with the wider political class. It was a demonstration of power and a pointer as to in what direction loyalty should have been directed. In part it was a kind of punishment.

The reasons are numerous and in common with the political and elite classes outside of the tribe: he is seen as being a thief, who ought not be trusted to watch over a single ougiya over night, a liar, who made many promises and kept few, even to family. It is commonnly said that Vall lied to anyone and everyone he spoke to during his time at the head of the transitional government from 2005 to 2007. Perhaps most importantly, he was not at the head of the government during the campaign period and thus did not have access to the state infrastructure in his effort. Ould Abdel Aziz was, as it were, the better investment of the two.

2 thoughts on “Why Ely Vall was a non-factor

  1. Again, I may be oversimplifying, but Aziz as the de facto incumbent is the only candidate (patron) who can credibly commit to transfer state resources to his voters (clients). In my opinion even with a supertransparent election process, Aziz would have won (I mean look at the last elections). Observations that expect Boulkheir or Daddah to win, I would reproach to ignore Mauritanian political realities. But again, just my very cynical self speaking here.

  2. In a super-transparent process (or even a more semi-transparent one) do not think Aziz would have won, not in the first round. As you say, look at the last elections. Sidi got, what 20 something percent in the first round? Even with power of incumbent, the way the elite had set itself up and the pre-election atmosphere did not suggest fifty-plus percent for everyone in the first round, especially not Aziz. I think there were three possibilities, Vall not being one of them.

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