Mauritania won independence from France in 1960, and is now ruled under a republican constitution of 1991 which resembles that of France, with elements of Islamic sharia law. The constitution legalized opposition parties, but the 2 presidential elections since 1991 were flawed. Mauritania remains under an authoritarian, single-party regime. The president (Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya, in office since 1984, and reelected in 1997), is elected by popular vote for a renewable 6-year term. He appoints the prime minister and Council of Ministers (cabinet), who are subject to control by a bicameral parliament. The parliament consists of a 56-seat Senate, or Majlis al-Shuyukh, whose members are elected by municipal leaders to 6-year terms, and a National Assembly, or Majlis al-Watani, whose 79 members are elected by popular vote to 5-year terms.
The ruling party, the nationalist and formerly socialist Democratic and Social Republican Party (PRDS) of President Taya, controls 71 of the 79 seats in the National Assembly (as of early 2001), and 8 deputies represent other parties. The Union of Progressive Forces (UFP) is the most important opposition group but domestic politics is still tribally based. Mauritania experiences tensions between its black African minority and the Arabic-speaking Moor majority and has a generally ambivalent attitude towards neighboring black Africa.
The government's role in the economy is significant; economic growth and poverty reduction are key objectives of its policy, including privatization and reform in the banking sector, liberalization of the exchange rate , and reduction of trade and investment barriers. Since 1998, the government has also stressed market liberalization, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, education, and health improvement. It plans to modernize the administration, attract foreign investments, increase exports, and develop agriculture, mining, and fishing. Some state-owned companies (such as fish export marketing, petroleum, and insurance) have been privatized, and private initiative has been encouraged. Corruption is still a major problem, particularly in taxation, bank loans, government procurement , project management, traffic and vehicle control, and administrative services.
Given the poverty of the population, taxes on businesses form the bulk of the government's revenue. Since 1999, the number of taxes has been reduced from 5 to 4, with the introduction of a law that replaced 2 existing taxes that applied to imports. Customs formalities have been simplified, but the tax system is reckoned business-unfriendly. The import tax rate varies between 9 percent and 43 percent, and imports value-added tax (VAT) rates are from 5 percent to 14 percent. Importers consider import taxes high in comparison to other countries.