Maputo — Mozambican civil society is by and large in favour of removing all political party appointees from the National Elections Commission (CNE).
That is one of the conclusions of research undertaken by the Mozambican NGO CEDE (Centre for Democracy and Development Studies) in cooperation with the German Konrad Adenhauer Foundation.
The CEDE project took two years, involving ten provincial seminars, one national seminar and about 100 interviews.
Presenting the results of the project at a meeting in Maputo on Thursday, CEDE suggested slimming down the CNE from 13 to seven members, none of whom would come from political parties.
CEDE proposed that the disciplinary body for judges, the Higher Council of the Judicial Magistracy (CSMJ), should appoint the CNE chairperson from among Supreme Court judges. The other six members "should be chosen from among a group of candidates proposed by a platform of civil society organisations, without intervention by political parties".
Currently, the CNE consists of five appointees from parties represented in parliament (three from the ruling Frelimo Party and two from the former rebel movement Renamo), and eight from civil society organisations. The party presence is larger than this sounds, because it was the political party appointees who chose the civil society representatives from a list of over 30 names.
The two positions adopted by the parliamentary parties during the current discussions on changing the electoral laws would worsen this political party dominance. Renamo has proposed enlarging the CNE to 17 members - five appointed by Frelimo, five by Renamo, five by the MDM (Mozambique Democratic Movement), two from extra-parliamentary parties and three from civil society.
Frelimo and the MDM have agreed to keep the size of the CNE at 13 - but eight of the members would be appointed by the parliamentary parties, and only five would come from civil society. Frelimo deputy Alfredo Gamito, who chairs the parliamentary commission on public administration, which is in charge of drafting the new electoral laws, openly admits that the formula is intended to accommodate the MDM, which would be guaranteed a place on the CNE (the MDM did not exist when the current CNE was appointed, in 2007).
Frelimo has thus radically changed its position. In March, Frelimo proposed a completely non-party CNE, with only seven members (very similar to CEDE's current proposal), but the other parties were so horrified that Frelimo quickly changed its mind.
Gamito now says that Mozambican society is not yet ready for a CNE that excludes the parties.
At the Thursday meeting, Renamo and the MDM took more extreme positions. One Renamo spokesman even claimed "there will be no elections in Mozambique" unless the Renamo demand for "parity" on the CNE is met.
Lutero Simango, head of the MDM parliamentary group, claimed that parties must appoint CNE member because "in elections the political parties are the main actors".
This position was rejected by prominent feminist Conceicao Osorio, representing the NGO WILSA (Women and Law in Southern Africa).
It was simply not true that elections were mainly of interest to political parties - in reality the main actors were the voters. "All of us take part in politics", she declared.
Many of the other CEDE recommendations were uncontroversial. There is general agreement that the CNE should be much more transparent. During the 2009 general elections, the CNE "failed to share information regarded as crucial for credibility", CEDE pointed out. The remedy suggested is that there should be a legal obligation on the CNE to publish all its decisions immediately, not only in the official gazette, the "Boletim da Republica", but also in the largest circulation daily paper (currently that is the Maputo paper "Noticias").
CEDE appears to have forgotten the importance of the Internet. For if the CNE were also obliged to publish its decisions immediately on a website, then every paper, radio or television station in the country could have speedy access to them and republish them.
Currently the CNE does not provide lists of the voters registered at each polling station on the grounds that the electoral registers contain personal data that should not be made public. CEDE thinks it would be perfectly feasible for the CNE to provide the basic information - the name and voter card numbers of the voters, per polling station - without violating any privacy.
CEDE also calls for simplifying the presentation of nomination papers. Currently would-be candidates must present criminal record certificates and, for municipal and provincial elections, residence certificates, and it is not always easy to obtain these documents. The Constitutional Council (the body that validates election results) has already pointed out that the demand for residence certificates makes no sense, since the candidate's voter card shows where he lives.
Despite this, the CNE continued to demand residence certificates from candidates in the recent municipal by-elections. CEDE says the Constitutional Council position should be enshrined into law. As for criminal record certificates, these should only be demanded after candidates have been elected (as is the case in South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania).