Mauritania's electoral commission has proclaimed ruling party candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani winner with 52 percent of votes in a presidential election the previous day.

Presidential candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani (C) casts his ballot at a polling station on June 22, 2019 in Nouakchott during the presidential election in Mauritania.
Presidential candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani (C) casts his ballot at a polling station on June 22, 2019 in Nouakchott during the presidential election in Mauritania. (AFP)

Mauritania's ruling party candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani has won the presidential election with 52 percent of the vote, the electoral commission announced Sunday, with opposition candidates crying foul.

Ghazouani obtained 52.01 percent of votes cast in Saturday's presidential poll, easily beating main opposition opponents Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid (18.58 percent) and Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar (17.87 percent), according to the official figures.

Boubacar, addressing a news conference along with three other candidates, charged that "multiple irregularities... eliminated any credibility" of the election in the West African desert nation.

"We reject the results of the election and we consider that they in no way express the will of the Mauritanian people," he said, vowing that the opposition would use "every legal means" to challenge them.

Ghazouani had already declared himself the winner in the early hours of Sunday in the presence of current president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, his supporters and journalists.

The ballot is the first in Mauritania's coup-strewn history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and transfer power to an elected successor, although the opposition has raised concerns the vote could perpetuate a government dominated by military figures.

The government spokesman congratulated Ghazouani on being "president-elect," he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

"Congratulations to president-elect Mohamed Ould Ghazouani for the trust the people have shown him. We wish him all success in his work," Communications Minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Maham wrote in Arabic.

With a clear majority of the votes, the 62-year-old Ghazouani, former head of the domestic security service, has won outright with no need for a second-round runoff election.

Over 62 percent turnout 

Some 1.5 million people were eligible to vote Saturday in the vast, predominantly Muslim state, which is approximately twice the size of former colonial power France and has a population of just 4.5 million.

Turnout was 62.68 percent, CENI said.

Preliminary results had originally been expected on Monday.

Ghazouani, a former general and defence minister, was heavily tipped to replace outgoing President Abdel Aziz, who is stepping aside after serving the maximum two five-year elected terms. 

Even before polls started to close after 1900 GMT, Ghazouani's spokesman, Sidi Ould Domane, told reporters Ghazouani would win an outright majority, thus avoiding a second-round run-off next month. 

"Our candidate is going to win the election with flying colours," Domane said. "You are going to have the confirmation in a few hours." 

Human rights abuses

Amnesty International has called on the next president to end rampant human rights abuses in this coastal Saharan nation of 4.5 million people.

"Anyone who dares to stand up against slavery, discrimination and other human rights violations and abuses is at risk of arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention and even torture," said Kine Fatim Diop, a West Africa campaigner for the rights organisation.

Ruled by army mostly

Mauritania has suffered five coups since independence from France in 1960, and has been led by military rulers for much of that time. 

President Abdel Aziz himself was head of the presidential guard when he seized power in a 2008 coup. He said he did so to prevent a return to repressive military rule.

He won a landslide election the following year in what opponents called a fraudulent "electoral coup."

Most opposition parties then boycotted the 2014 election in which Aziz won 82 percent of the vote according to official results.

The president is barred by the constitution from seeking another term. In respecting term limits instead of seeking to change the constitution he contrasts with several leaders elsewhere in Africa in recent years.

His successor of choice and former Defence Minister Ghazouani is a retired general who served as chief of staff of Mauritania 's armed forces.

Ghazouani was chosen by the ruling majority as a presidential candidate after his retirement. He has campaigned on his security credentials and the outgoing president's record on fighting Islamic extremists.

Militancy-affected 

The country borders Mali, where militant rule forced tens of thousands to flee the country's north to Mauritania in 2012.

While the security situation has deteriorated in Mali even after the militants were ousted from control, Mauritania has not seen the spillover in violence experienced by Mali's other neighbours Niger and Burkina Faso.

Mauritania is a member of the G5 Sahel regional counterterrorism force, which was established in 2017 but has been plagued by funding problems.

Mauritania was the last country to abolish slavery, doing so in 1981, but did not criminalise it until 2007. 

Late last year the United States ended trade benefits with Mauritania, saying the country is not making sufficient progress toward combating forced labour, including slavery.

The Mauritanian government, however, denies that slavery is widespread.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies