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Mauritanian national dialogue yields agreement

By Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 27/10/11

Mauritanian politicians reached a wide-ranging agreement on reform last week after month-long talks between opposition leaders and the government. Political parties also agreed to launch a campaign to explain the changes to citizens.

The talks, observed by the president, various politicians and international guests, took place at the Conference Palace and ended October 19th. Parties kicked off the publicity campaign for the pact on Sunday (October 22nd), with plans to visit Nouakchott and all state capitals.

Among the primary opposition participants were the Progressive People's Alliance and El Wiam.

Ten subjects were included in the agreement: National unity, social cohesion, the promotion of democracy, reform of the judiciary, the audio-visual field, determining the status of the democratic opposition, the electoral code and the peaceful rotation of power, the status and the role of the national army, wise governance and the fight against terrorism.

Candidates for political office, except for the presidency, will no longer be allowed to run as independents, while non-constitutional changes and coups were criminalised. Military personnel will be restricted from participating in politics.

The accord included plans to amend the constitution to make the government accountable to parliament. One of the articles explicitly rejects slavery, torture and all forms of humiliating and degrading behaviours.

According to the agreement an independent national commission for elections comprised of seven members will be established and will be permanent and fully independent and to comprise of seven members.

With regard to the fight against terrorism, both sides agreed to respond firmly to these issues, taking into account the causes and motives, nationally and internationally.

A special commission is to be assembled by the president to implement the agreement.

"The results of this dialogue will undoubtedly be a qualitative step to strengthen democracy and consolidate development, because Mauritania is able to cope with the negative accumulations of decades of manipulation… systematic corruption and poor performance in general," President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said in his speech after the announcement of agreement.

"Democracy is not just a rigid management status achieved through legislative or specific regulatory procedures,” he added, “but it rather depends primarily on the dynamic of openness, the will for reform, and consensus on the highest interests of the people."

Chief negotiator for the opposition Beijel Ould Houmeid said that the political dialogue with the presidential majority made it possible to build trust between the two sides and to overcome "futile differences. Its results are considered a gain for Mauritania.”

Ould Houmeid insisted on the authorities’ commitment to the implementation of the agreement, but said that there would likely be difficulties bringing about real change.

The ten opposition parties that boycotted the dialogue considered the agreement just a "consecration to the authorities of the current regime".

They expressed their view that the agreement did not clearly establish the powers of the prime minister, the parliament or the relationship between them. “Also, it did not give real guarantees to keep the military leaders away from interfering in politics."

The Association of Mauritanian Journalists issued a statement on October 20th welcoming the signing of the agreement, saying it would “unite the ranks in the battle for development”.

The February 25th youth co-ordination said that the talks led to compromises from both sides. They also expressed their hope that the agreement would end the years-old political crisis.

The youth movement pointed out that the discussions did not address specific issues “such as the place of the youth in the society, as well as the economic and social reforms that are necessary to improve the living conditions of the Mauritanian citizens".

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