Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mauritania returns to the democratic world

The Head Heeb reports:
Nineteen months after long-time dictator Maaouiya Ould Taya was overthrown in a bloodless coup, the country's voters finished the process of choosing a president. Independent candidate Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who won 24.79 percent of the vote in the first round on March 11, won a nail-biter against Ahmed Ould Daddah in the runoff, taking 52.85 percent of 706,703 votes cast. This result wasn't unexpected in light of the electoral alliances formed between rounds and the military's tacit backing of Abdallahi, but both the campaign and voting proceeded without major irregularities, and all parties appear to have accepted the outcome as fair.

Solomon2 used to car-pool with a U.S. government employee who had been stationed in Mauritania's capital, Nouakchott. He described the country in 1966 as so backward that when the first traffic light was installed, pedestrians were mesmerized for hours by the changing colors. I recall one story - sorry, I can't confirm it - that the World Bank was building a rail line to permit efficient mining of the country's iron deposits - for a long time its only marketable resource - but the first segment of the line was re-routed to the then-president's home village instead.

I had thought this election was just a trick by the French (Mauritania's former colonial ruler) to steal oil contracts from the Australian company that holds them, but this time it looks like democracy for real - and perhaps a model for other countries in the region.

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