Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani on track for reelection, provisional results show

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) — Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani is on track to secure a second mandate after positioning the country as a strategic ally of the West in a region swept by coups and violence, provisional results showed on Sunday.

Ghazouani, who is seeking reelection on a pledge of providing security and economic growth, obtained 55% of votes, according to provisional results from over 80% polling stations, the country's independent electoral commission said on Sunday afternoon. His main rival, anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid, received 22.4% of votes, the commission said, with a turnout of almost 55%.

The full results are expected on Sunday evening but Ghazouani, a former army chief and the current president of the African Union, has a comfortable lead.

Although his opponents accused him of corruption and mismanagement, he remains popular among Mauritanians who see him as a beacon of stability. The vote is taking place in a particularly tense regional climate, with Mauritania’s neighbors shaken by military coups and jihadi violence.

Mauritania is rich in natural resources including iron ore, copper, zinc, phosphate, gold, oil and natural gas. It is poised to become a gas producer by the end of the year, with the planned launch of the BP-operated Greater Tortue Ahmeyin offshore gas project at the border with Senegal.

Yet almost 60% of the population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, working as farmers or employed in the informal sector. With few economic opportunities for young people at home, many are attempting to reach Europe, and some are even trying to get to the United States through Mexico.

“The last word belongs to the Mauritanian voters,” Ghazouni said after voting in Ksar, a suburb of the capital. “I commit myself to respecting their choice.”

Saturday’s vote unfolded peacefully, according to observers.

“Nothing has been detected so far and the CENI has not received any complaints,” said Taghioullah Ledhem, the spokesman for CENI, the country’s independent electoral commission. But some opposition candidates held a different view.

Biram Dah, who came second in the vote acccording to the provisional results, warned on Sunday against “an electoral coup d’état for the benefit of Ghazouani, who was defeated by voters.”

During a press conference on Sunday morning, Biram accused the electoral commission of fraud by giving Ghazouni thousands of votes “added out of nowhere.”

"We are going to oppose this electoral hold-up," he said. “I ask Ghazouani to respect his solemn commitment to comply with the will of the people.”

The African Union sent an observation mission to Saturday's vote, with their statement expect later on Sunday.