The man who led the military coup that toppled Mauritania’s first elected head of state last August was late on Sunday voted in as its new president, the country’s interior minister said.
Former general Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz won the presidential poll in Saturday’s first round with 52.58 of the vote in provisional results, said Mohamed Ould Rzeizim, dismissing opposition claims of a “charade.”
“The elections took place in very good conditions,” the minister said. “I congratulate the Mauritanian voters for their spirit of responsibility and their sense of civic duty.”
Ould Abdel Aziz is due to hold a press conference later Sunday.
Ould Rzeizim said he had received no information that would lead him to call the vote into question, despite a statement issued by four opposition candidates contesting initial results.
Four candidates for the presidency, including the speaker of parliament Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, denounced what they called the “prefabricated results” of the election at a joint press conference on Sunday.
“These results are provisional and will be transmitted to the constitutional council” for validation, the minister added.
Already overnight Saturday, Ould Abdel Aziz’s supporters had taken to the streets of the capital soon after polling stations closed to celebrate his expected victory.
Ould Abdel Aziz was the leader of the coup last August that ousted Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, Mauritania’s first elected head of state.
He ceded control as head of the junta in April and resigned from the army to contest Saturday’s election.
At the joint opposition press conference Messaoud Ould Boulkheir told reporters: “The results which are starting to come out show that it is an electoral charade which is trying to legitimise the coup.”
Ould Boulkheir, leading an anti-coup front, was Ould Abdel Aziz’s nearest challenger with 16.72 percent of votes.
With him at the press conference was Ahmed Ould Daddah, head of the main opposition party, who came in third with 13.86 percent.
Also present were Ould Mohamed Vall, the junta chief in 2005-2007, who scored 3.79 percent; and Hamai Ould Meimou, an independent candidate.
Their joint declaration called on the international community to carry out an independent enquiry into voting irregularities.
They also called on “competent bodies” such as the constitutional council and interior ministry not to validate the results, and for the Mauritanian people to “mobilise to defeat this electoral coup d’etat.”
But even as the opposition candidates protested, Ould Abdel Aziz was visiting his campaign headquarters to congratulate his team.
He promised them he would stick “rigorously” to his campaign programme.
More than 300 international observers attended the vote, from the African Union, the International Organisation of French-speaking Countries (OIF) and the Arab League.
But there were no observers from Europe, officially for scheduling reasons, said one diplomatic source.
In April the European Union suspended its cooperation with Mauritania because of the coup, also freezing 40 million euros in aid.
Brussels said cooperation would only resume once there had been a “return to constitutional order.”
The electoral commission said earlier voter turnout had been 61.5 percent.
Saturday’s election was meant to restore democracy in Mauritania, which has mostly known military rule since independence in 1960, by restoring constitutional democracy to this arid, but potentially oil-rich country.
Some 1.2 million of the nation’s three million people were eligible to vote in the polls.