As elsewhere in French West Africa, formal political movements developed in Mauritania only after World War II. Horma Ould Babana, the leader of the first party to be established, the Mauritanian Entente, was elected to the French National Assembly in 1946. His party was considered too radical by the traditional chiefs, who organized a more conservative party, the Mauritanian Progressive Union (UPM). The UPM won 22 of 24 seats in the 1952 elections for the Territorial Assembly. In the 1957 elections, the first under universal adult suffrage, 33 of 34 persons elected to the Territorial Assembly were UPM members. In 1958, the UPM absorbed the weakened Entente into its organization, forming a single party, the Mauritanian Regroupment Party (PRM).
After independence, Prime Minister Moktar Ould Daddah in May 1961 set up a presidential system of government, and in the subsequent presidential election he was the only candidate. In December 1961, a new single party was formed, the Hizb Sha'b, or Mauritanian People's Party (Parti du Peuple Mauritanien— PPM). The PPM included minority parties as well as the PRM. By 1965, the single-party system had been established by law. President Ould Daddah was reelected in 1966, 1971, and 1976, but the PPM was dissolved after his ouster in 1978. No political parties functioned openly from 1978 until the 1991 military coup.
The Front for the Liberation of Africans in Mauritania (FLAM) was instrumental in stirring the 1989 unrest that ultimately led to multiparty elections. During this period of partisan organization, Taya formed the Democratic and Social Republican Party (Parti Republicain et Democratique Social— PRDS).
Chief among some 14 opposition parties has been the Union of Democratic Forces-(UFD), which supported the runner-up in the January 1992 presidential election and boycotted the March parliamentary election. In May 1992, the UFD changed its name to UFD-New Era. In March 1993, it was weakened by the departure of eight centrist leaders to form a new political grouping. Also active are the Rally for Democratic and National Unity (RDU), the Union for Progress and Democracy (UPD), the Mauritanian Renewal Party (PMR), the People's Progressive Party (PPP), the Socialist and Democratic People's Union (SDPU), the Democratic Center Party (DCP), the Popular Front or FP, and El Har, a 1994 splintering of the UFD-New Era. The technically illegal Islamist party Ummah is very popular. The Action for Change (AC) party, which held four seats in the National Assembly following the October 2001 elections, was banned in January 2002.
The current Assembly is overwhelmingly dominated by the President's party, the PRDS. The prime minister since 1998 has been Cheikh El Avia Ould Mohamed Khouna.