Like the Constitution, the Constitutional Charter of February 1985 pledged adherence to principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the charters of the United Nations (UN), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the League of Arab States (Arab League). The charter also proclaimed Islam the state religion and sharia the only source of law.
The fundamental powers and responsibilities of the CMSN, outlined in Article 3 of the charter, included establishing the general policies of the nation, promulgating ordinances to carry out policy, monitoring actions of the government, ratifying international agreements, and granting amnesty except in cases of retributory justice and religious crimes. Articles 4 through 10 pertained to the internal organization of the CMSN and presidential succession. Members were nominated to the CMSN by ordinance of that body, and it alone decided the procedures by which it would conduct its business. Included within the CMSN was the Permanent Committee, consisting of all CMSN members posted to Nouakchott. The Permanent Committee met in ordinary session once every fifteen days and in extraordinary session when convoked by the president. The CMSN was required to meet in ordinary session every third month and in extraordinary session when convoked by the president after approval of the Permanent Committee, or upon the request of one-third of the members. If the president were temporarily absent, the president of the CMSN would nominate a member of the Permanent Committee to carry out the routine affairs of state. If the president were temporarily incapacitated, the Permanent Committee would nominate one of its members to manage affairs of state for a period not to exceed one month. In the event of the president's death or a long-term incapacitation, the Permanent Committee would designate one of its members to carry out the functions of president for one week, after which the entire CMSN would appoint a new president from among its members.
Articles 11 and 12 determined the manner in which the president nominated civilian and military members of government. As head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, the president made all nominations for civilian and military posts and for members of the government. Similarly, he could dismiss an appointee at any time. The final four articles of the Constitutional Charter dealt with maintenance of public order and enforcement of CMSN ordinances.
A second ordinance, promulgated at the same time as the charter, governed the internal organization of the CMSN and supplemented the charter. The preamble to this ordinance unequivocally entrusted the CMSN with national sovereignty and legitimacy, but only until replaced by democratic institutions.
The first three articles established de jure membership and rank in the CMSN and delineated the relationship between members of the government and the CMSN. Members of the CMSN ranked higher than members of the government. Accordingly, no member of the CMSN could be sued, searched, arrested, held, or tried while carrying out official duties. No member could be arrested or sued in criminal cases or minor offenses without authorization from either the full CMSN or the Permanent Committee, unless caught in flagrante delicto.
The second article dealt with the selection and responsibilities of the president of the CMSN, who was chosen in a secret ballot by a two-thirds majority of its members and could be deposed in the same way. The president presided over debates and ensured that the Permanent Committee complied with the charter and the committee's regulations. He also controlled debate and could suspend the session at any time. Internally, the CMSN included five advisory commissions dealing with cultural and social affairs, security affairs, public works and development, economy and financial affairs, and education and justice. The commissions monitored the implementation of policy in their respective areas.
In reality, the CMSN in 1987 was a coterie of officers, most of whom were Maures, representing a variety of sometimes overlapping and sometimes discrete corporate and ethnic interests. Among its members, rank, status and influence varied widely. In debates, which were resolved by consensus, the opinions and positions of the acknowledged "big men" were not likely to be challenged openly by members of lower status, who instead might have engaged in surreptitious maneuvering or plotting behind the scenes. The most powerful member of the CMSN in the late 1980s was Taya, who was often described as hardworking and dedicated and whose achievements were the result of strength of purpose rather than political ambition. The second most powerful figure was the minister of interior, information, and telecommunications, Lieutenant Colonel Djibril Ould Abdallah, who was often described as "Taya's strongman."
The military government operated through a cabinet whose members, both civilian and military, were appointed by the president, presumably after consultation with members of the CMSN. In 1987 approximately one-third of the fifteen cabinet ministers were also members of the CMSN, although that ratio changed with every cabinet reshuffle. Cabinet officers were responsible for implementing policies initiated by the CMSN.
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