Posted by: RFI

Mauritanians voted Saturday in a referendum on constitutional reform that would mean abolishing the country’s Senate and changing the national flag. Critics see it as a covert power grab.

The constitutional changes that more than one million Mauritanians were asked to endorse in Saturday’s referendum,were already rejected in March this year by the country’s Senate.

The senators refused to sign their own death warrant in a manner of speaking, because, if the reform does go through, they’ll be out of a job.

They’re not the only ones who are opposed to the proposals.

Most of Mauritania’s opposition parties reject the proposed amendments, which they believe would cement President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s grip on power.

“We feel that removing the Senate is just an excuse for President Aziz to run for a third term,” Moussa Sylla, a Mauritanian activist told RFI.

On Thursday, clashes broke out in the capital, Nouakchott, between demonstrators — mostly anti-slavery activists and Islamists — and security forces, marring the final day of campaigning.

Decentralisation and term limits

“This referendum is the final straw,” says Sylla. “There are more urgent problems, more important than reforming the constitution!”

Or changing the national flag and anthem, which is also what the referendum calls for.

Despite the resistance, Aziz has pressed on with his proposals.

If constitutional reform is voted through, the country’s three branches of the judiciary will be folded into one and the Senate will be replaced by new regional councils, which the president’s supporters argue will decentralise power.

Mauritania, which bridges north Africa and western sub-Saharan Africa, is a large and highly centralised country.

“These changes make sense,” Ibrahima Dia, Mauritania’s former ambassador in Washington told RFI. “The Senate doesn’t have real added value. The regional councils will bring about decentralisation if well-designed and well-implemented.”

By Christina Okello

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