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Mauritania - Government

Mauritania is a highly centralized Islamic Republic with a president as head of state and a constitution grounded in French civil law and sharia (Islamic law). The Senate and National Assembly exercise legislative functions but are weak relative to the executive. Mauritania has a strong authoritarian tradition. Coups dtat have served as the usual means of changing its government. There has never been a transition from one democratically elected president to another.

Mauritania won independence from France in 1960. The current constitution came to force in 1991. In June 2006 the Mauritanian people voted strongly in favor of adopting a new constitution, which provides for a civilian government composed of a dominant executive branch, a senate, and a national assembly.

Following the 2008 coup, the opposition organized under the Front National Pour la Defense de la Democratie (FNDD), an umbrella organization of anti-coup parties, and opposition leader Ahmed Ould Daddah's Rassemblement des Forces Democratiques (RFD). These groups joined forces to organize coup protests and to boycott unilateral elections organized by the junta for June 6, 2009. General Aziz governed the country at the head of the HSC until April 2009, when he resigned both from the government and the military to run for president in the controversial planned June 6 elections.

Senate President Ba Mamadou M'Bare, an Afro-Mauritanian, was appointed interim President, and the HSC was relegated to a national security role. Mauritania's 10-month-long political stalemate ended with the June 4 signing of the Dakar Accord, which was brokered by Senegalese President Wade, the African Union, and the international community and signed by the three parties to the crisis--the Aziz camp, the FNDD, and the RFD. The accord called for President Abdallahi's return to form a consensual Transitional Government of National Unity and sign his resignation, which would open the way to constitutionality. The new government would organize elections on July 18 under the supervision of the international community.

After delays implementing the accord, which stemmed from disagreements about the future of the HSC, Abdallahi returned to form a Transitional Government of National Unity and resigned on June 27, 2009. In this interim government, the pro-coup camp, also known as "the majority," appointed the Prime Minister and 50% of the government, while the opposition controlled the remaining half, including the Ministry of Interior and Communications. The opposition also controlled two-thirds of the National Independent Electoral Commission. Presidential elections took place on July 18, with General Aziz scoring a first-round victory with over 53% of the popular vote. Three presidential candidates contested the result but the Government of National Unity, international observers, and the international community declared the elections free and fair.

Mauritania's government bureaucracy is composed of ministries, special agencies, and parastatal companies. The Ministry of Interior controls a system of regional governors and prefects modeled on the French system of local administration. Under this system, Mauritania is divided into 13 regions (wilaya), including the capital district, Nouakchott. Control is tightly concentrated in the executive branch of the central government, but a series of national and municipal elections since 1992 have produced some decentralization, and efforts to decentralize the government continue.

Upon his inauguration in August 2014, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz committed to addressing the concerns of the most deprived and fighting corruption. He also said that he would not seek to amend the Constitution, which forbade him to re-represent at the end of his term of office.

The ruling party, some minor allied parties, a small moderate opposition party, and several micro-parties, some unregistered, participated in a National Political Dialog held in Nouakchott 29 September through 20 October 2016. All the major hardline opposition parties declined to participate. The final document, which called for some constitutional reforms, including the abolition of the Senate (an indirectly elected body) and changes to the National Anthem and Flag was rejected by the Senate on March 17, 2017. Thirty-three senators, out of a total of fifty-six, voted against the amendment package after lawmakers in the lower house (National Assembly) passed the same proposal by 121 votes to 19 on March 9, 2017.

Mauritanians voted 05 August 2017 on contentious constitutional changes sought by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz that some opposition legislators said could prompt a slide towards authoritarian leadership. The referendum sought to replace the country's Senate with elected regional councils, to abolish several other state bodies and to make a small alteration to the national flag, adding a red band at the top and bottom to honor those who fought for freedom from France.

President Mohammed Ould Abdel-Aziz called for the referendum in March 2017 after more than half of the 56-seat Senate rejected the proposed abolition, which had earlier been approved by the nation's lower house of parliament. While Aziz, his supporters and several opposition parties sought a "Yes" vote, one moderate opposition party sought a "No" The remaining parties joined civil society groups to call for a total boycott for amendments they consider unconstitutional.





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