Mechanizations in Mauritania: Reports

After a month with President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in hospital in France, members of Mauritania’s ruling party, opposition and military appear to be growing impatient. Early November saw the first mass protests since the president was shot in early October and Mauritania’s generals met on 17 October in a reportedly tense meeting during which the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mohamed Ould Ghazouani came under pressure from some attendees to take a more assertive political role, which Ghazouani reportedly resisted. Articles in Essirage and al-Akhbar, two Mauritanian Arabic-language news sites, recently published reports describing parliamentary mechanizations that might lead to major changes in the political landscape in coming days and weeks. The report discusses efforts by members of parliament to find a way ‘out of the constitutional vacuum’. One should note how some external analyses of the situation in Mauritania over the last year have elided or ignored its constitutional dramas, set in motion largely by the president with the help of parts of the opposition (through passivity or inertia), not least the failure to hold parliamentary elections on time which has meant that the political system has been more or less extra-constitutional since about last October.

Essirage describes efforts to call a parliamentary conference that would lead to constitutional changes ‘remedying’ the current situation. The report says that elements of the military are ‘seriously trying to break the barrier to the establishment acting in his [the president’s] absence’ by creating a post of Vice President. Alex Thurston recently pointed out that Mauritania’s constitution lacks clarity as to the line of succession and the operation of government in the president’s absence. Any amendment to the constitution would likely be meant to clarify this as an institutional correction; it would also likely be undertaken with the current political climate in mind. The article reports on another option in the case Ould Abdel Aziz’s health deteriorates while he is still in France: the election of a ‘transitional president’ by a special congress of the upper and lower houses of parliament (National Assembly and Senate). This ‘transitional’ leadership would end with presidential and legislative elections.

The report quotes anonymous sources as saying that most important in these plans is ‘the health of the Senate President Ba Ahmadou Lambare who sought treatment in France a few months ago and whose health seems to not allow him to sit at the helm of the country’s management at its most difficult time politically’. The article notes that military opinions about either idea are driven by the ‘inability of the political organs and administrative authorities to manage acceptable elections’. None of these military minds are named, though it is likely they do not refer to Gen. Ghazouani (though changes in opinion are not impossible). It concludes by discussing the views of members of the opposition ‘demanding a transitional period’ while writing that ‘they will not stand in the way of what they see as a “consensual solution,” according to sources’. It reports that ‘opposition leaders are seeking an opportunity to cut off the road before the return to power of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz without opening a new gate to the military’. This speaks to a concern widespread among senior opposition leaders, especially in the COD, that a badly planned or too hasty move to get rid of Ould Abdel Aziz would simply open the door to yet another coup and another military man in charge.[1] This concern has been at the core of many opposition calls for the military to retreat from politics over the last year and a half.

Al-Akhbar‘s article reports on Mohamed Lemine Ould Dahi, a constitutional expert who has drafted parts of the Mauritanian constitution and was part of the movements that ended the 2005-2007 transition.[2] The report has Ould Dahi discussing the intent and origin of Article 32 of the constitution (‘Le Président de la République promulgue les lois dans le délai fixé à l’article 70 de la présente Constitution. Il dispose du pouvoir réglementaire, et peut en déléguer tout ou partie au Premier ministre. Il nomme aux emplois civils et militaires.’). This is notable because it sheds light on an important consideration: Mauritanian constitutional law experts who could be apart of mechanizations should the need arrive, especially from the opposition side. The backgrounds and political relationships are important of such people are important. In addition to Ould Dahi, there are others to consider: Mohamed El Hacen Ould Lebatt,[3] Lo Gourmo,[4] and Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed Saleh.[5] All of these are politically active to some extent, and are either cool or hostile toward Ould Abdel Aziz. Other actors and plans are relevant as well. and will become increasingly relevant the longer the president remains abroad.

[1] Shortly after the 2009 election, a senior opposition leader reportedly told a source to ‘be careful what you wish for, each of these “transitions” in our country has lead to another officer, each one worse than the one before him,’ referring to Mauritania’s politics by coup since the early 1980s after hearing youths urge opposition parties to take a more assertive stance against Ould Abdel Aziz. At the same time, rumors and indications that Mauritanian elites have been floating the idea of a ‘transition’ out of the current constitutional crisis via technocrat-led process were being floated in conversations earlier in 2012, around March or April.

[2] Ould Dahi is also a confidant of Ely Ould Mohamed Vall.

[3] Ould Lebatt a former constitutional law professor who served as Ambassador to Ethiopia and South Africa and as Foreign Minister under Maouiyya Ould Tayya and is presently a special envoy at Francophonie. He was one of the drafters of the 1992 constitution. He was an activist with the clandestine left-wing Kadihine movement, which eventually became the UFP.

[4] A major UFP figure and constitutional law professor who taught in France; he is openly hostile to Ould Abdel Aziz.

[5] A technocrat in the Mauritanian bureaucracy and with a number of international organizations; least political of the men named here. The UFP website, however, hosts an article by Ould Mohamed Saleh from 2009 titled: ‘Les deux constitutions: (A propos de la Décision du Conseil Constitutionnel du 15 avril Sur la Vacance du poste de Président de la République)’.