According to provisional results of the parliamentary and municipal elections held on Saturday, September 1, the Union for the Republic (UPR), the party of current President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, and the Islamist party known as the National Rally for Reform and Development (RNRD)  have won the most seats in Mauritania’s National Assembly.

The National and Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) in Nouakchott reported the Mauritanian national election results on September 3, without providing official statistics. The UPR and National Rally for Reform and Development, also known by its short name “Tewassoul,” garnered the majority of seats.

An article by Alakhbar published the evening of September 4, released a list of the top ten parties based on 30 percent of the legislative votes in Nouakchott. It concluded that Tewassoul had won 15.3 percent of the vote, while UPR had secured 12.2 percent. An earlier article reported that UPR had taken the lead in the national elections, revealing some uncertainty about the final outcome. Runoff elections, if necessary, are scheduled for September 15.

The announcement of the final results, originally scheduled for September 4, has allegedly been delayed due to accusations from the Electoral Coalition of the Democratic Opposition (CEOD) that the regime engaged in massive fraud. Both the CENI and the African Union have, however, refuted these accusations.

Pro-government parties were expected to win the most seats in parliament due to their prominence within the electoral districts. The Tewassoul party alleges that its candidate for regional council presidency in Nouakchott, Jemil Mansour, has taken the lead against the UPR. The Tewassoul candidate is reported to have won 5,786 of the votes, compared to 5,611 for the UPR candidate.

Regardless of the final outcome, Tewassoul appears poised to win additional seats adding to the 16 seats already held in the National Assembly. The party, founded in 2007, is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered a terrorist organization by several Middle Eastern governments, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt.

A record 98 parties competed for 146 seats in the legislative assembly and for seats on municipal councils in last week’s elections. 1.4 million Mauritanians were eligible to vote in 3,000 different polling stations throughout the country, monitored by African Union observers.

The day before the elections, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in an official statement, delivered by Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, that he was “closely following developments in Mauritania on the eve of the legislative, regional and municipal elections scheduled for 1 September,” and that he “urges all parties to ensure the holding of elections that are peaceful and credible and allow for the participation of all interested stakeholders.”

These elections contrasted sharply with the previous ones five years ago, when the opposition parties boycotted the elections. Many considered the elections a test for President Aziz, who came to power in a coup in 2008 and won the presidential elections in both 2009 and 2013.

Aziz has run up against the nation’s two, five-year term limits and many detractors and supporters alike speculate that he intends to change the constitution to run for a third term in the presidential elections, slated for 2019. Aziz has promised multiple times, however, that he plans to step down at the end of his current mandate.

Despite Aziz’s stated intention to step down, the parliamentary elections are considered an indicator of how next year’s presidential elections will go. If parties backing the government win a majority in parliament, they would have the capacity to alter the constitution and allow Aziz to run again.  

Numerous reports have surfaced of the regime’s crackdown on opposition, arrests of dissenters, and violations of basic freedoms in the lead-up to the elections. Amnesty International demanded, in a statement on August 15, that the regime put an end to the “arrests of journalists, opposition figures and anti-slavery activists in an apparent pre-election crackdown on dissent.”

The organization’s West Africa researcher, François Patuel, cautioned that the arrests and detentions “send a worrying signal of intimidation, harassment and crackdown on dissenting voices by the Mauritanian authorities ahead of September’s parliamentary, regional and local elections.”

Mauritania is located along the Sahel region between the Sahara Desert and the Sudanian Savanna to the south. The desert nation suffers from a host of economic problems such as a poverty rate of 31 percent, low economic growth, and high youth unemployment, as well as rampant corruption.

It is likely that economic concerns played a role in a lower turnout rate in the elections. An unemployed youth named Hamadi said, “[W]e have a lot of problems, especially the young people. They [the youth] don’t believe in the elections because of the huge unemployment issue, the problem of waste. There are a lot of problems here and not enough solidarity between ethnic groups.”