- With over 80 percent of the votes counted in Mauritania's peaceful and fair presidential polls, it is obvious that a second round contest will take place, as none of the 19 contenders polled 50 percent of the votes, electoral officials said. Mauritania's final transition to democracy thus will take some weeks longer.
Provisional results have put Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (68) on top with 23 percent of the votes. Ahmed Ould Daddah (64), a long time opposition leader and half-brother of Mauritania's first President, trailed second with 21 percent. Mr Abdallahi and Mr Daddah are expected to battle it out in the second round polls on 25 March.
Zeine Ould Zeidane, an independent candidate, is ranked third with 13 percent, according to the provisional results.
Mr Abdallahi is a well-known political figure who ran several ministerial portfolios in the regime of the ousted President Maaouya Ould Taya. In 1987, Mr Abdallahi was put under house arrest for six months after had fallen out with President Taya.
His election bid is supported by a coalition of 18 parties, which include former several officials of the Taya government. Mr Abdallahi thus is mostly seen as the candidate closest to the "old regime".
Mr Daddah, who ran twice against President Taya, is the brother of Mauritania's first President, Moctar Ould Daddah. He too was put under house arrest for four years. Mr Daddah during the Taya regime stood out as a system critic and true oppositional.
The current democratic elections, which are the first of their kind since the country attained independence from France in 1960, had been organised by a military junta that promises to hand over power 19 months after toppling President Ould Taya from power in August 2005.
Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Val, who overthrew the 21-year-old regime of Mr Taya, has headed a military junta that has implemented far-reaching democratic reforms in the country. Mr Val kept his promise of not standing candidate at the elections.
Nevertheless, the military voted yesterday. Asked whom he had voted for, he diplomatically told reporters "I voted for Mauritania."
The turnout at the presidential polls is estimated to be over 60 percent.
International observers, who include those from the European Union (EU), described the Sunday polls as "free, fair and transparent". They also noted that voting had went peacefully throughout the country. The EU dispatched an 81-member team to supervise the Mauritanian elections. The mission's leader, Anne Marie Isler Bégin, said voting went orderly.
Mauritania began the democratic transition with a constitutional referendum on 25 June 2006, when 97 percent of the voters endorsed the constitution that limits the presidential term to 10 years. This was followed by legislative and municipal polls. Now, only a second presidential poll round remains to complete the transition.
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