Mauritanian flag

Form of government, constitution and separation of powers

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a presidential democracy. The president is directly elected with an absolute majority. (possibly runoff election). The term of office is five years, he can stand for re-election once and the maximum age is set at 75 years.

The rights of the president in a centralized presidential system are very extensive. The constitution removes it from any control by the legislature. He is head of state, commander in chief of the armed forces and chairman of the government.

He appoints the government and has the right to dissolve parliament.

He appoints 3 of the 6 judges of the Constitutional Court and its chairman and also all 5 Islamic scholars of the High Islamic Council.

The repeatedly amended constitution of July 20, 1991 in the version of 10.1.2012 declares Islam the state religion and guarantees the separation of powers, a multi-party system and general civil and human rights.

The parliament consists of one chamber, the National Assembly (Al-Jamiya-Al-Wataniya). The second chamber, the Senate (Majlis Al-Chouyoukh), was abolished by a constitutional referendum in 2017.

Since the parliamentary elections in 2018, the National Assembly has 157 members who are elected directly in constituencies or via national lists. At least 20 seats are exclusively for women.

Since a constitutional amendment in 2012, parliamentarians have lost their seats in parliament when they change parties.

According to dentistrymyth, the Mauritanian Parliament is the first in Africa to have its own TV channel.

A comparative study of the constitutional systems in West Africa offers an insight into the Mauritanian system. The Trans Saharan Elections Project at the University of Florida provides further information on the government system in Mauritania.

Formal state structure

Mauritania is in

  • 6 regions headed by a President
  • 13 Wilayate (wilaya / administrative region) with a wali (governor) at the head,
  • 53 Moughataas (muqata’at, departments) with a hakem (hakim, prefect) on top and
  • 216 parishes run by an Oumda (umda, mayor).

The law for the creation of regional councils of 2018 implements the resolutions of the referendum of August 5, 2017.

Six administrative regions are created:

Region 1: includes the Willayas of Hodh el Gharbi and Hodh el Charqui;

Region 2: includes the Willayas of Assaba, Tagant and Guidimaka;

Region 3: includes the Willayas of Gorgol, Brakna and Trarza;

Region 4: includes the Willayas of Tiris Zemmour, Adrar and Inchiri;

Region 5: replaces the urban community of the capital Nouakchott

Region 6: replaces the Willaya from Dakhlet Nouadhibou.

A regional council is assigned to the region and has between 11 and 25 members depending on the size of the population. There is a quota for women that stipulates that at least 2 out of 11, 3 out of 15, 4 out of 21 and 5 out of 21 and more seats in the regional council are to be occupied by women.

The regional councils are elected by direct general election for a term of five years. The executive body is headed by a directly elected president and several vice-presidents elected by the regional councils. According to the law passed, the new regions “have the task of promoting economic, social, cultural and scientific development within their territorial jurisdiction”. However, the activities of the regions are subject to the supervision of the Decentralization and Finance Ministries.

The success of this decentralization will depend heavily on the financial resources allocated to the regional councils. It remains to be seen whether the regional councils enjoy a certain degree of autonomy or are under the control of the central administrations.

The creation of the six regions in 2018 is seen as a continuation of the Mauritanian decentralization policy, which began with the creation of 216 municipalities in 1986. The new structures will also fight the main problems faced by the administration: underfunding and too few and poorly trained staff. Regarding decentralization see also the texts of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the World Bank.

Law, order and security

The judiciary is independent according to the Mauritanian constitution (Art. 89). However, some incidents show that the judiciary is under repeated pressure from the executive and influential people.

The most important instances are the Supreme Court (Cour Suprême) and the Court of Appeal (Cour d’Appel) in Nouakchott. The strictest sanction is the death penalty. It is no longer practiced in regular procedures.

Overall, the Mauritanian legal system was and is shaped by modern (French) and Islamic law. Mauritanian criminal law is a mixture of Sharia law and the French criminal code. Family law is strongly influenced by Sharia. The “Civil Code” announced in 1989, which implicitly superseded the French Civil Code, which had been in force in Mauritania until then, also draws on the sources of Islamic and French law. However, modern law prevails.

The military and paramilitary units such as the gendarmerie are responsible for internal security. There is no clear separation of tasks.

Political role of the military

The military has had a decisive influence on Mauritanian politics since independence. The first president was deposed by his chief of staff. As a result, officers who came to power took turns at the head of the state through a coup d’état.

The roots of today’s military and political rulers go back to the 1980’s. Since 1984, today’s President Abdel Aziz was tasked with building up an elite military unit to protect the President. Under him, the Presidential Guard (Bataillon pour la Sécurité Présidentielle – BASEP) developed into the best-trained and equipped unit in Mauritania.

The Presidential Guard was instrumental in the coups in 2005 and 2008, which underscores the role of the military as a domestic power factor.

Even during the transformation phases, the military leadership proved that even after the democratic election of a president, it was not prepared to forego its historically grown influence.

Observers believe that Abdallah owed his presidency to the support of the military. He was the perfect candidate for the military: a technocrat, without his own social base or domestic power and therefore easy to manipulate. The Bertelsmann Transformation Index also rates the military as an important power group in Mauritania. Since the failed Western Sahara War in 1978, the military has more or less obviously held political power. Changes of power are essentially battles between different groups within the military.

According to data from SIPRI, military spending for 2018 was US $ 162 million; the share in GDP is 2.8%. While they fell by more than 8% in 2015 compared to the previous year, a continuous increase has been observed since then; the share in the state budget is 10.7% in 2019.

The NATO and particularly France and the United States support the Mauritanian army since 2015 in the professional training for the anti-terrorism operation.

Mauritanian flag