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Nine months after a bloodless military coup toppled its first freely-elected leader, talks are under way in Mauritania to return the West African nation to constitutional order. With a questionable presidential election looming June 6 that is likely to preserve the unacceptable political status quo there, the talks come at a critical time, and the United States encourages all parties to work toward a consensual solution to the crisis.
In August of last year, President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was overthrown by a junta led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and other senior military officers. Other African nations and the international community condemned the move as a dangerous and destabilizing precedent for the continent.
Aziz held the president in house arrest and refused African Union demands to reinstate him, saying that would not be in the best interest of the Mauritanian people. Instead, he promised new elections, and then changed the constitution to allow retired members of the military to run for office. Following that, he himself retired from the military to do just that.
Facing a tight, junta-controlled timetable, major opposition parties are boycotting the election, and if the polling goes on as scheduled next month, Aziz may cruise to victory. Given the situation there, it would be a hollow one, however, lacking any of the legitimacy that the generals are seeking.
Far better, then, to pursue in earnest the ongoing discussions with the opposition parties being sponsored by the Senegalese and Libyan governments. The voting should be delayed to give the parties ample time to resolve the crisis.