The first results of the survey in Mauritania show in advance the candidate of the ruling party

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A man casts his vote in a polling station during the presidential elections in Nouakchott, Mauritania on June 22, 2019. REUTERS / Coulibaly of the media

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) – The first results of the poll led the government candidate Mauritania Mohamed Ould Ghazouani to Saturday's election, taking 50.72% of the votes with just over half of the votes counted, the election commission data showed Sunday .

His closest rival, Mohamed Ould Boubacar, who is supported by the largest Islamist party in Mauritania, has so far 18.47% of the votes, the figures have shown. Biram Dah Abeid, a black Mauritanian slavery activist, had a cup-neck with Boubacar, with 18.24%, with the other candidates in single figures.

Approximately 800,000 votes were counted on 1.5 million.

The election was the first in the history of the sparsely populated Saharan nation after independence from France in 1960 to choose a successor to a democratically elected president. Outgoing President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has surprised many of his compatriots and international observers by stepping aside after having served the maximum of the two terms elected for five years.

His decision contrasted with a trend in which African leaders, including in Rwanda and the Republic of the Congo, changed or abolished time limits to hold on to power.

Since taking the helm in a 2008 coup, Abdel Aziz, 62, has positioned Mauritania, home to less than 5 million people in a vast expanse of the Western Sahara desert, as an ally of the West against Islamic militants.

However, unlike other regional allies, Mauritania was largely spared from the reprisals of jihadist militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic state that devastated neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.

Report by Kissima Diagana; Write by Tim Cocks; Editing by Louise Heavens

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