Despite being on the edge of the Sahara, Mauritania has found itself the subject of various invasions and migrations over the centuries. The Berbers moved in around the 3rd Century and the Arabs came in during the 8th Century. It saw itself absorbed into the Ghana Empire and the Almohad empire and over five centuries a slow but sure Islamisation of the country took place.
The Europeans, in the form of the French, came to the area relatively late, in the early 1900s. Having been absorbed into French West Africa in the early part of the 20th Century, in 1958 the Islamic Republic of Mauritania was declared, although it wasn’t until 1960 that independence was achieved.
The country’s first president was Moktar Ould Daddah. He was formally elected in 1961 and a number of parties came together under his leadership to form the Mauritanian People’s Party (PPM). On 25th December 1961 the PPM became the sole legal political party in the country.
Daddah remained in office as did his party through the 1960s and 1970s until he was deposed in a bloodless coup on 10th July 1978.
Colonel Moustafa Ould Salek led the first military government under the banner of the Military Committee for National Recovery (CMRN). He was removed by Colonel Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah and a new government, the Military Committee for National Salvation was established.
Colonel Haidallah was, in turn, deposed by Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya on 12th December 1984.
In 1991 President Taya introduced a new constitution and allowed the setting up of political parties. This period ended the formal military rule.
In 1992 Taya won the presidential election with 62.7% of the vote. He won again in 1997, this time with 91.0% of the vote and again in 2003 with 67.0%. His party, the Democratic and Social Republican Party (PRDR) easily won the 1992 election taking 67 of the 79 seats in the National Assembly.
The PRDR won the 1996 election with 70 of the 79 seats and the 2001 election with 64 of 81 seats.
The party ended in 2005 when a coup deposed President Taya whilst he was visiting Saudi Arabia. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall the head of the military junta said that neither he nor his fellow officers would stand for election.
In 2006 those parliamentary elections were held and the National Pact for Development and Democracy (PNDD – ADIL), an alliance of parties won the election. In 2007 Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi became the new president with 52.85% of the vote in a second round runoff.
In 2008, however, President Abdallahi tried to sack his most senior generals and the same day they held a military coup and deposed him. In 2009 a further presidential election was held and the leader of the military coup, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, was elected president with 52.58% of the vote.
In 2009 Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz founded a new party called the Union for the Republic (UPR) to act as his political vehicle although, as President, he must remain an independent.
In the 2013 general election the UPR won 75 of the 146 seats in the National Assembly to give them a majority in parliament. The election was boycotted by a number of opposition parties.
In 2014 President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was re-elected with 81.89% of the vote with the National Forum for Democracy and Unity (FNDU,) which includes the Coordination of Democratic Opposition (COD), a group of 17 political parties along with civil society organizations boycotting the election.
The President is elected for a five year term.
The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate or Majlis al-Shuyukh with 56 seats of which 53 members are elected in indirect elections by local government leaders and three members are elected by Mauritanians living abroad. They serve six year terms but a proportion of the chamber is elected every two years. The National Assembly or Al Jamiya Al Wataniya has 146 seats of which 106 members are elected through constituencies 40 are elected (20 are reserved for women) through a national closed list proportional representation system. They serve five-year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Mauritania at joint 142nd out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 27 (where 100 is least corrupt).