Mauritania ruling party well ahead in vote

Electoral commission says the Union for the Republic is leading in legislative, regional, local elections.

NOUAKCHOTT - Mauritania's ruling party is well ahead in legislative, regional and local elections held earlier this month, the electoral commission said Sunday, in the west African country's last vote before key presidential polls.

"The Union for the Republic is the leading political party according to provisional results" of the first-round September 1 vote, commission spokesman Mustafa Sidel Moktar said.

The party won 67 of the 157 seats in the national assembly, compared to 14 for the second-place Islamist party Tewassoul.

Tewassoul was one of several opposition parties to boycott the last polls in 2013, but a record 98 parties took part this time.

Sidel Moktar said numerous smaller parties gained between one and six seats, including the opposition Gathering for Democracy headed by Ahmed Ould Daddah, which won three, as did Mohamed Ould Moloud's Union of Forces of Progress.

Anti-slavery activist Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, the runner-up in 2014's presidential election, also won a seat.

The ruling Union for the Republic also took four of the 13 regional councils up for grabs as well 108 of the 219 municipalities, Sidel Moktar said.

The turnout was 73.4 percent, Mohamed Vall Ould Bella of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said on Saturday, in a country with a registered electorate of some 1.4 million.

A second round vote will be held on September 15 to decide 22 national assembly seats, nine regional councils and 111 municipalities, CENI said.

The elections in Mauritania, a frontline country in the fight against Islamist extremists, were seen as a test for head of state Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz seven months before a crucial presidential vote.

Aziz, 61, who came to power in a coup in 2008, won elections in 2009 and again in 2014 for a second five-year term.

He has been frequently accused by opposition figures and NGOs of rights abuses, and though he says he will not seek a third mandate -- which would be against the constitution -- statements by ministers and supporters have led some to suggest he might.