The Electoral System
The political regime and administrative organization of Mauritania
The Constitution of July 20, 1991 establishes a semi-presidential regime in Mauritania. The President of the Republic is head of state and is entrusted with important prerogatives that include the appointment of the Prime Minister and the possibility to consult the people of Mauritania by referendum. The president also has a strong claim to legitimacy which derives from his election by direct universal suffrage. The Constitution includes separation of powers between the executive and the legislative branches, the latter of which is represented by a bicameral parliament consisting of a National Assembly and a Senate. It should be noted, however, that the separation is not entirely rigid. The president may dissolve the National Assembly, but, in turn, the Government is accountable before the National Assembly and may be forced to be reappointed through a vote of no confidence.
The Mauritanian territory is divided into 13 wilayas (regions), which are decentralized, administrative entities under the authority of a wali (governor) who represents the central government. Each wiliya is divided into Moughataas (sub-regions), and the Moughataas, in turn, are divided into “arrondissements” (subdivision of the Moughataa, roughly the size of a small borough). The 54 Moughataas are each under the authority of a hakem (representative of the central government in the area). Traditionally, the country was managed under a heavily centralized administrative system. However, the administrative and institutional reforms introduced in 1986 have initiated a decentralization process with the creation of 208 municipal governments. The capital city became an urban community (large-scale local government) that includes 9 municipalities. The country has currently 216 municipalities governed by municipal councils elected for five years by universal direct suffrage. The urban community of the capital city, Nouakchott, is a wilaya and each of its nine municipalities is also considered a Moughataa.
Municipal and legislative elections were organized in the country in 2006, and presidential elections were last held in 2009. However, as of September 2013, new legislative and local elections had not been organized, although they were due in 2011. The constitutional law 2012-015 of March 20, 2012 revising the July 20, 1991 Constitution extended the term of the members of the National Assembly until the proclamation of the results of the next legislative elections. The only elections that were organized in the wake of the 2008 military coup were the presidential elections of 2009.
From September 17 to October 19, 2012, the presidential majority and one segment of the opposition held a “National Dialogue.” This forum led to the drafting of new legislation to change provisions of electoral law and establish a permanent National Independent Electoral Committee (CENI) which will be in charge of organizing the upcoming elections.
The new provisions related to legislative and local elections were not enforced, as of September 2013. They will govern the next elections.
The electoral law and process
Since the adoption of its constitution on July 20, 1991, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania has passed a complete legal package on electoral issues. The main steps of the Mauritanian electoral system will be reviewed below.
The various laws that govern presidential, legislative, and local elections are based on a number of principles. These principles include: (1) the universality and secret nature of the ballot; (2) the importance of the role of political parties, “which contributes to the shaping and expression of people’s political will”; and (3) the absolute equality of all citizens involved in political competitions. The sole limit of these principles are those (constraints) determined by the Constitution: the respect of democratic principles, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the national unity of the Republic of Mauritania.
For an electoral system, presidential elections utilize a single plurality with runoff, while the legislative and local elections are decided through use of a proportional system with list of candidates where the population density is high enough. The proportional system is used in such cases to enable the opposition, as well as small parties, to gain seats in the institutions that represent all Mauritanians (this will be dealt with more thoroughly below).
Participation and representation
Participation in elections has increased during recent years. Not only was there a high level of participation in the 2006 constitutional referendum, but the participation in all elections, presidential, legislative and local, have remained high since 2006. The turnout in all the elections organized since 2006 is over 64%. Mauritanian voters fully participate now in all elections.
The election of the president of the republic (majority system with runoff): As a national election, the election for president of the republic takes place across the entire country. The president is elected by universal direct suffrage for a five-year term, which is renewable once. He or she is elected with an absolute majority of ballots cast. If none of the candidates obtains an absolute majority, a runoff is organized within 15 days. Candidacies for presidential elections are registered at the Constitutional Court. Any candidate may file a written claim with the President of the Constitutional Court regarding the regularity of the ballot or the counting of the votes. The Constitutional Court adjudicates the cases after having heard the observations of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) on the grievances presented to the Court. The Court has the mandate to proclaim the final results of presidential elections. The CENI has the mandate to proclaim provisional results of the presidential election. It should also be noted that independent candidacies are allowed and they increased in 2005.
The elections of members of the National Assembly and of the Senate: The current number of members of the National Assembly is 146, and the number of seats for each constituency is determined by the number of inhabitants residing in the Moughataa (subregion). At present the following rules apply:
- one seat at the National Assembly for electoral constituencies with 31,000 inhabitants or less
- two seats at the National Assembly for electoral constituencies with more than 31,000 inhabitants
- three seats at the National Assembly for electoral constituencies with more than 90,000 inhabitants
- four seats at the National Assembly for electoral constituencies with more than 120,000 inhabitants
- 8 seats at the National Assembly for the special electoral constituencies of Nouakchott
- 20 seats for candidates elected on the basis of national lists
- 20 seats for the national list of women candidates
For the election of the members of the National Assembly, a mixed electoral system is used: a national proportional system (with one round); a proportional system in each of the more populated constituencies (one round if more than two seats are in competition); and a majority system with runoff in the other constituencies of the country. There are 54 electoral constituencies corresponding to the number of sub-regional entities resulting from the administrative division of the country.
Senators are elected by indirect suffrage by municipal councils for a six-year term. The Senate has 57 members, 54 of them representing the local governments in the Moughataas and 3 representing Mauritanians living abroad. The 54 senators representing the Moughataas are elected by indirect suffrage, whereas the 3 senators representing the Mauritanian Diaspora are elected by the Mauritanians living abroad split into three electoral constituencies. One third of the Senate is up for election every other year.
In accordance with electoral law, senators are elected by a single majority system. If a candidate receives an absolute majority of ballots cast, he or she is elected and no runoff will be organized. When a runoff is necessary, a relative majority will suffice to be elected. The way this provision is stated in the law is unclear because a runoff election consists of two candidates, and thus an absolute majority is inevitable. If two candidates receive the same number of votes, the oldest candidate shall be declared the winner.
The election of municipal counselors (proportional representation with one round or with runoff): Depending on its demographic size, each municipality elects between 9 and 21 counselors, as stated in the provisions of the electoral law. There is no runoff if a list of candidates obtains an absolute majority of the ballots cast. The distribution of seats will be allotted on a proportional basis in accordance with the highest remainder of votes obtained by the lists of candidates. If no list obtains an absolute majority, a runoff is organized between the two lists that received the largest number of votes in the first round of the election. Each of the two lists will be allocated a number of seats proportional to the number of votes obtained on the basis of an electoral quota. This provision will certainly need to be explained when comes the moment of its implementation because it implies that when a list receives an absolute majority all lists which meet the electoral quota will receive a seat. Alternatively, if no list receives an absolute majority then in the second round only two parties will have the possibility receiving seats.
Candidacies are made under the banner of legally established political parties. Mauritanians who are aged 27 or more are eligible. Lists of candidates, under no circumstances, shall be made on an ethnic or tribal basis, or to represent the character of a particular community or sect.
It should be reminded that the provisions regarding the election of members of the National Assembly, senators and municipal counselors, had not been implemented as of September 2013. They are expected to be implemented in coming elections. The reforms introduced in the electoral system brought the following changes in the election of the members of the National Assembly: a quota for the representation of women, 20 seats filled by proportional representation (as opposed to 14 previously), a national list of twenty seats reserved to women, and a large representation of electoral constituencies based on their demography. This last measure will make the Assembly more representative. To illustrate this point, it can be noted that before the reform, the vote of a citizen registered at Bir Moghrein (one member of the National Assembly for every 1,473 voters) had twelve times more weight than that of a voter in Kiffa (two members of the National Assembly for every 36,662 voters).
Useful links and documentary resources
- Official website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) : www.ceni.mr
- Official website of the Ministry of the Interior: www.interieur.gov.mr
- Journal officiel de la République islamique de Mauritanie (This website provides access to the texts of laws according to their issuers) : http://www.mauritania.mr/legislation/index.php
- Ordonnance n° 91-027 du 07 octobre 1991 portant loi organique relative à l’élection du Président de la République, modifiée
- Loi organique n° 2009-021 du 02 avril 2009 modifiant et complétant certaines dispositions de l’ordonnance n° 91-027 du 07 octobre 1991 portant loi organique relative à l’élection du Président de la République
- Loi organique n° 2012-028 du 12 avril 2012 modifiant certaines dispositions de l’ordonnance n° 91-027 du 07 octobre 1991, modifiée relative à l’élection du Président de la République.
- Ordonnance n° 91-028 du 7 octobre 1991 portant loi organique relative à l’élection des députés à l’Assemblée nationale
- Ordonnance n° 91-041 du 8 décembre 1991 modifiant la loi organique relative à l’élection des députés à l’Assemblée nationale.
- Décret n° 2006-089 MIPTPM du 18 août 2006 portant convocation du collège électoral pour l’élection des députés à l’Assemblée nationale et des conseillers municipaux.
- Loi n° 2001-28 du 7 février 2001 fixant la répartition des sièges de l’Assemblée nationale