Mauritania - Leadership

Taya's leadership has been plagued by problems involving human rights, press censorship, ethnic unrest, and setbacks in the democratization process. Human rights groups, as well as the U.S. State Department, have criticized the Taya regime for failure to eliminate slavery, an inequitable judicial system, unacceptable prison conditions, press censorship, and poor treatment of dark-skinned Mauritanians. Serious discord developed between France and Mauritania in July of 1999 regarding the arrest in France of a Mauritanian army officer on charges stemming from allegations of torture in a prison in Nouakchott in 1990 and 1991.

Taya has attempted to follow the democratization process that swept West Africa since 1990, though there are signs of increasing opposition to his rule. Amid claims of election rigging, a new Constitution was approved in July 1991 that gave the president extensive powers and put no term limits on his service. Presidential elections were held in January 1992. As a candidate of the progovernment Social and Democratic Republican Party (Parti Républicain Démocratique et Social—PRDS), Taya was elected with 62.7% of the votes cast. His first democratically elected government included representatives from all major groups in the population. Multiparty municipal elections were held in 1994, and the PRDS won control of 172 of the nation's 208 administrative districts.

Presidential elections were held on 12 December 1997. Main opposition parties claimed that campaign conditions favored the reelection of Taya to a second six-year term, and called for a boycott of the elections. Kane Amadou Moctar, the first black African ever to run for the presidency, presented himself as a nonaligned candidate with a platform promising to fight slavery, assist the return of Mauritanian refugees from Senegal, and reform the fisheries policy. The elections took place without incident and Taya was declared the winner, taking 90% of the votes. Turnout was estimated at 70%, despite the opposition boycott. Moctar received less than 1% of the vote. Opposition leaders described the poll as a "masquerade," citing reports of widespread irregularities that included children casting ballots.

In January 1999, the PRDS won most of the 208 districts contested in municipal elections, though it is estimated that only 16% of the registered voters went to the polls. Candidates of the PRDS running in the October 2001 election for seats in the National Assembly captured 64 of the 81 seats. Senate elections were held in April 2002, with PRDS winning 54 of the Senate's 56 seats.

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