Mauritania's June 22 Election a Vital Chance to Rescue Democracy

Next month, on June 22, citizens of Mauritania will queue to vote in a pivotal election – this historic day is an opportunity to break the shackles of military rule and the politics of repression and offer instead a chance to secure total and unconditional freedom. A freedom that reflects and does not discriminate against my fellow citizens, regardless of ethnic or racial, political or religious, gender or geographic stations in life.

The people of Mauritania – those who support my candidacy for president and my overall vision, as well as those who may not – deserve a government for the people and by the people, and especially with the people. Crucial to realizing this dream, this hope for a brighter future, depends on achieving a peaceful relationship with our military leaders and to breaking the unjust nexus between that military structure and the state.

While our current president, Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, should be applauded for not seeking an unconstitutional third term in office, he has passed the leadership baton to a well-known military loyalist, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani. Given the abuses and impunity with which our military has participated in, this development is grave cause for concern, both for Mauritanians and our international allies – allies who should have a vested interest in a stable, secure, rights-respecting and indisputably democratic Mauritania.

I strongly believe that if Mauritanians were allowed to freely participate in a fair and credible election on June 22, the vestiges of our military rule would be swept away – and resoundingly so. Well aware of this fact, the military regime has put in place and further strengthened several mechanisms to deprive my fellow citizens the right to a free and fair election. Importantly, these moves are in direct violation of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which our government both signed and ratified in 2008.

Among my campaign’s chief concerns is the biased nature of our electoral commission, CENI; namely the composition of its executive structures, which strongly and shamelessly favor the ruling party and its chosen candidate. What is more, the ruling government – in both past elections and currently – are working to frustrate the efforts of opposition supporters to locate their polling places. Oftentimes, voters in opposition strongholds, including those who have supported my previous campaign for president, are purposefully directed to errant stations, in effect deleting their votes, their voices and their democratic aspirations. Similarly, during past election cycles, ruling party authorities have bribed opposition supporters, buying their voter ID cards to ensure that they cannot cast their ballots on election day.

Perhaps most concerning is the role of Mauritania’s military – specifically the fact that service members have been allowed to vote multiple times in past elections, overall tallies that have overwhelming favored the ruling regime. Reports from the ground during the 2018 legislative elections, for example, indicated that military members were, in some cases, allowed to cast 20 separate votes for one local candidate.

All of these transgressions are unacceptable and must not be allowed to take place on June 22.

For these reasons, I am asking that our international partners, media outlets and journalists, and fellow democrats worldwide to pay close attention to our election. I assure you that something is happening on the ground. Mauritanians are increasingly demanding and agitating for the democratic future that they deserve. I will indeed carry these dreams forward to June 22; and these hopes will buoy my campaign efforts and will bolster my resolve in the face of the persecution, the prosecution, the harassment and prison time I have routinely had to endure due to my principled demands and positions.

Mauritania needs your energy and solidarity now more than ever. I hope you will stand with us in the coming days, weeks and months. Stand in unison with Mauritania. Stand with us to demand true democratic rule.

Biram Dah Abeid is a world-renowned and award-winning anti-slavery and human rights activist from Mauritania. He is standing for president in the country’s upcoming June 22 election as the candidate of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania).

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of Vanguard Africa or the Vanguard Africa Foundation.