|06NOUAKCHOTT784||2006-06-27 19:18:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Nouakchott|
1. (C) The extraordinarily high percentage of yes votes
notwithstanding, the evidence available to us suggests the
referendum met international standards for a free and fair
election. There could, of course, have been fraud that we
have not yet uncovered, and we explore that possibility below
in paras. 3-8.
2. (C) Some possible explanations for the validity of a 97%
yes vote include the following:
-- The strong influence of a campaign mounted by an
extremely popular government to get out the vote in support
of the constitutional amendments. The government did not
take a neutral stance. It urged all Mauritanians to "Vote
Yes." The vote could well have been more a referendum on the
government than on constitutional change.
-- Those against the government and against
constitutional change did not vote, either because the
outcome of the referendum was already a forgone conclusion or
because they were unable to vote.
-- The recent census and voter registration drive
almost certainly disenfranchised at least some Black African
Mauritanians in the south. This group, which may have been
less supportive of the referendum, was not registered at an
equal rate to other, potentially more supportive groups.
-- Note: These and other Mauritanians will have at
least one more chance to register. After many complaints
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about failing to register all eligible Mauritanians,
including repeated complaints by this Embassy, the government
has decided to reopen the voter rolls at least one more time
before the presidential election next March. End Note.
3. (C) A second explanation we have considered is outright
fraud. However, all those actually in the field observing
these elections (both from our observation teams and those
from the AU, Arab League, OIF, and UN) have reported an
election free from fraud.
4. (C) In all, these teams visited over 125 polling stations
around the country, and observed over 30 different ballot
tabulations (from the seals on the ballot boxes being cut, to
the boxes being opened, to the final tally of ballots).
Tallies from these observations all reported ballot counts
within the 95% - 98% support range. That's in line with the
5. (C) That is not to say that fraud could not have occurred,
but if it did, it would have had to have occurred before the
ballot tabulations (such as with ballot stuffing during the
day when observers were at another location). While this is
possible, the list of registered voters in each polling
location would have had to have been altered as well (by
checking off names of voters that hadn't voted and then
submitting the same number of yes ballots). However, this
would have shown up when some of these voters later came to
vote and were told that they had already voted and been
checked off the list. Observers would most certainly have
seen cases of this, but no such cases were reported.
6. (C) UN Electoral Team Communication expert Riccardo
Barranca, who had conducted similar observation missions in
over 15 other countries told PolOff that "we would have seen
widespread fraud if it had occurred," adding that "the level
of fraud that would have been needed to fake results such as
these would have been impossible to hide."
7. (C) Barranca said "fraud may have gone unnoticed, but the
safeguards we had in place here would have kept the impact of
such fraud to only a couple of percentage points at most."
Barranca added that he was "surprised by how well organized
and transparent these elections appeared." When asked if he
thought the election was "free and fair," he said
"personally, I do, but that's as much a political question as
it is one related to the elections themselves."
8. (C) Since so many eyes in the field failed to see a single
sign of a deliberate effort to defraud the election, we
conclude that the lack of any real referendum opposition,
combined with the strong government-led campaign in support
of the referendum, are what led to these extraordinary
9. (C) Additionally, we will report septel on the public
reaction of Mauritanian political parties and civil society
to these extraordinary election results. Some have claimed
that fraud must have played a role (though they provide no
examples or theories for such fraud). Others, such as
SOS-Esclaves (SOS-Slaves), believes the elections were free
and fair, and that the strong results demonstrate the strong
support of the Mauritanian public for this transition.
SOS-Esclaves' stance follows the government's refusal to
allow their organization to observe elections. The group
decided to ignore this refusal and went forward with its own
observation mission anyway.