The constitution of 20 May 1961 declared Mauritania to be an Islamic republic. This constitution, which placed effective power in the hands of a president who was also head of the only legal political organization, the Mauritanian People's Party, was suspended in 1978 by the new military regime. Subsequently, executive and legislative powers were vested in the Military Committee for National Salvation. A draft constitution was published in 1980 but later abandoned; like the 1961 document, it called for a popularly elected president and National Assembly.
The July 1991 constitution delegates most powers to the executive. The president is to be elected by universal suffrage for a six-year term. The prime minister is appointed by the president and designated head of government. Parliament is composed of a bicameral legislature. The Senate or Majlis al-Shuyukh has 56 seats with 17 up for election every two years. Its members are elected by municipal leaders to serve six-year terms. The National Assembly or Majlis al-Watani has 79 seats with members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. These institutions pose no serious challenge and, moreover, are controlled by the president's party, though competing political parties were legalized in July 1991.