What’s Fueling Debate Over Proposed Constitutional Reforms in Mauritania

What’s Fueling Debate Over Proposed Constitutional Reforms in Mauritania
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz speaks during the India-Africa Forum Summit, New Delhi, India, Oct. 29, 2015 (AP photo by Bernat Armangue).

Earlier this month, Mauritania announced it would delay a constitutional referendum planned for mid-July, rescheduling it for Aug. 5. Among the most significant changes included in the proposed reforms would be the elimination of the country’s Senate, a proposition that has predictably spurred opposition from senators. The delay risks increasing political tension amid speculation about President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s plans for when his term expires in 2019. In an email interview, Imad Mesdoua, senior consultant at Control Risks and a specialist on North Africa and West Africa, describes the substance of the referendum and reactions from across the political spectrum.

WPR: What are the most significant changes proposed as part of the planned constitutional referendum? What are the official reasons for them? And why have they provoked opposition from lawmakers?

Imad Mesdoua: The proposed constitutional changes would see the elimination of key state institutions such as the Senate and three judicial bodies: the High Court of Justice, the High Islamic Council and the national ombudsman, known as the Mediator of the Republic. The new draft constitution also calls for the creation of elected regional councils. In addition, the new constitution would change the Mauritanian flag, adding two red bands, and add lyrics to the national anthem. The red bands and additional lyrics are aimed at recognizing the blood spilled during the country’s independence struggle with colonial ruler France.

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