For the first time since Mauritania’s independence 59 years ago, its citizens voted on Saturday for a successor to a democratically-elected president, though a government insider campaigning on a message of continuity is heavily tipped to win.
Abdel Aziz is stepping aside after serving the maximum two five-year elected terms and has thrown his support behind 62-year-old Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, a former general and defence minister.
Five candidates besides Ghazouani are on the ballot. Former Prime Minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, who is backed by Mauritania’s biggest Islamist party, has drawn large crowds on the campaign trail and is considered Ghazouani’s main rival.
Located on the northwest African coast and bordered to the east by the Sahara Desert, the country of fewer than 5 million people gained independence from colonial power France in 1960.