NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) — Mauritania's president easily won re-election after the major opposition parties boycotted the vote, the electoral commission announced Sunday.
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz won with nearly 82 percent of the vote, according to the commission. The next closest candidate took only about 8 percent. The Constitutional Council, the West African country's highest court, must still validate the results.
Aziz had been expected to win, after a group of the country's major opposition parties refused to participate in the election, calling it a sham. The boycott appeared to have dampened turnout, which was 56 percent in Saturday's election, lower than in the last presidential vote but higher than many expected.
Aziz, who assumed power in a coup in 2008 and won elections a year later, has been a staunch ally of the West in facing the growing terror threat in West Africa. He now faces huge challenges. Insecurity is growing in the Sahel, a band of countries including Mauritania south of the Sahara Desert. Islamic militants roam in its vast ungoverned spaces. Mauritania's neighbor Mali was overrun by al-Qaida-linked fighters in 2012, until a French-led intervention pushed them back.
The economy may pose an even greater hurdle. Mauritania is one of the world's poorest countries with great economic and social inequality, including a stark divide between people of Arab descent, who make up the country's elite, and blacks. Even though it is illegal, slavery persists.
Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, the candidate who came in second, was himself a descendent of slaves and an anti-slavery campaigner.