Mauritanians vote for new constitution

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is located in northwest Africa

Mauritanians voted in favour of a new Constitution by an overwhelming majority in a referendum held on June 26, according to results announced by Interior Ministry officials today. The new Constitution sets limits on the number of presidential terms a leader can serve, in contrast to several sub-Saharan countries, where several leaders have amended their Constitutions to retain power.

The Interior Minister, Mohamed Ahmed Ould Mohamed Lemine said that over 96 percent votes cast were in favour of the new Constitution. The turnout was over 76 percent of the close to One million registered voters, who constitute about a third of the country's population.

The referendum is being held as part of a transition from the country's present military government to a civilian one. The present government was formed in August 2005 in a bloodless military coup led by Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, which ended then President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya's 21 years of strong-arm rule. The reforms voted upon must now be approved by the country's constitutional council. The new Constitution is to replace the 1991 one.

The referendum will now lead to municipal and legislative elections to be held in November, followed by elections to the parliamentary upper house and the President's post in 2007.

President Ely Ould Mohamed Vall promises to restore democratic rule in 2007

The new Constitution provides for a presidential form of government, with the President commanding significant powers, including the appointment of the prime minister. The Parliament though, can vote for no confidence in the government or censure it. The Constitution disallows members of the present junta from running for the President's post and requires future leaders to swear on the Qur'an that they will not amend the Constitution to stay in power.

International observers from the African Union and the Arab League said that the referendum appeared to have gone smoothly, but have yet to make their final reports.

President Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who also voted in the referendum said, "This is a great day and a rebirth for Mauritania ... I am sure that all Mauritanians feel the same way and that for this reason the Constitution will receive massive support." and reiterated that "whatever the result I shall respect my promise" to return power to civilians in 2007.

The Constitution has the backing of most civic and political groups, though two small parties called for a boycott of the referendum, saying the proposed Constitution ignores slavery, which is officially banned but still persists according to activists; and issues of "cohabitation between the different national communities" (such as Blacks and Arabs).