The president's spokesman said the government had received reports that the opposition was buying identity cards "to influence the participation rate". "We are talking about an operation on a grand scale," said El-Houssein Ould Ahmed El-Hadi. "It is not only illegal, but also morally wrong, because it prevents citizens from freely voicing their preference." The electoral commission is looking into the reports, he said. Mauritania's opposition, the National Forum for Democracy and Unity (FNDU), which is made up of a loose collection of lawmakers, rejected the allegations.
"The reality is the FNDU doesn't need to confiscate citizens' identity cards, they themselves are showing their disinterest in the elections... by abstaining from the campaign," the party said in a statement. The opposition have criticised the "dictatorial" character of Abdel Aziz's regime, accusing him of organising an "electoral mascarade". Abdel Aziz, who took control of the former French colony in a 2008 coup before being elected a year later, said those seeking a boycott "refuse to acknowledge the great progress made for poor Mauritanians" in recent years.
A mainly Muslim republic between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara Desert, Mauritania is viewed as strategically important by the West in the fight against Al-Qaeda-linked groups both within its own borders and across the region. Four candidates, including an anti-slavery campaigner and Mauritania's second ever female presidential hopeful, are running against the president. Aziz is tipped to win the poll, but a weak turnout could be interpreted as a sign that the boycott has been a success.