- While not properly recognised, the once-persecuted Islamists are being tolerated in the electoral campaign going on in Mauritania. After Sunday's poll, Islamist candidates could enter the Nouakchott parliament for the first time, but the radicals find only a narrow audience among Mauritanians.
There is always much noise at the Toujounine market in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital. Nowadays, eloquent speakers from time to time overshadow the background noise with microphoned speeches describing the wonders of their political party. In the only shadow around, around 200 persons listen almost religiously. "We are centrist reformers and the most appropriate and able to change this country," a young man shouts.
These "centrist reformers" are in fact the principal Islamist movement of Mauritania, a group seen as in between the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the more moderate Justice and Development Party (PJD) of Morocco.
Not officially recognised, the Islamists would not have been present in the campaign for Mauritania's 19 November local and parliamentary elections, had it not been for the transitional government's opening up of a window for them. Authorities wanted to assure a free, fair and non-criticised organisation of this first state in Mauritania's return to democracy, following the military coup that unset the authoritarian regime of President Maaouya Ould Taya one year ago.
The Islamists are present with two lists; "El Emel" ("Hope") for the local polls and "El Moustaqbal" ("Future") for the legislative polls, in addition to having some candidates on the national list of the small PUDS party, with which they signed an electoral cooperation accord. Therefore, the Islamists will be present in almost all wilayas - Mauritanian districts - during the elections; in 12 out of 13 at the local polls and in 10 wilayas during the national poll.
However, when it comes to having real possibilities of sending deputies to Mauritania's new National Assembly or even taking power in one of the wilayas, there is no doubt that the Islamists will have to count on a miracle if they want to avoid a total failure.
During the Ould Taya regime, Islamist movements were consequently forbidden and most leaders were imprisoned charged with imaginary coup plots. This however was not enough to give the movement a martyr image among ordinary Mauritanians. Developments since the coup have demonstrated that the Islamist movement in the country has close to no popular support.
The group will face harsh competition from a record number of parties and candidates. For the 19 November legislative polls, some 441 candidate lists are competing for only 95 parliamentary seats. The deputies are to represent a total population of only around 3 million people - out of which 52 percent are women - in one of Africa's largest countries, with a surface of 1.3 million square kilometres.
Near half the country's young population is enrolled in the electoral registers. Also here, women form the majority, constituting 60 percent of the electorate. This gender composition caused transitional authorities to approve a law that secures women candidates a minimum 20 percent representation, which is believed to empower women to better fight for and defend their interests.
Among the 95 deputies to be elected on Sunday, 81 are to come from regional lists, while the remaining 14 MPs are to be from national lists.
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