Maputo — Contrary to the decision taken a fortnight ago, the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, will be unable to take any decision this Wednesday on amendments to the country’s election laws, because the parliamentary group of the main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, has asked for more time “for reflection”.
On 31 October, the chairperson of the Assembly’s Commission on Public Administration, Alfredo Gamito, reported on the latest attempts to achieve consensus in drafting the amendments. As expected, the gulf on the composition of the electoral bodies remained as wide as ever, but despite this deputies from both Renamo and the ruling Frelimo Party suggested that the leaderships of the parliamentary groups should try yet again to reach consensus on these points.
But the parliamentary leaderships had already held three rounds of negotiations – in December 2011, and January and April of this year – with no sign of bridging the gap between Frelimo and Renamo on how the National Elections Commission (CNE) and its executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) should be set up.
There was no reason to assume that a fourth round of talks would make any difference.
Indeed, during the brief debate on 31 October speakers from both parties reiterated their unflinching commitment to their existing proposals.
Faced with calls for postponing a decision from both parties, Gamito proposed a delay of seven days to give the parliamentary leaderships time for a last ditch effort to break the deadlock and achieve consensus.
Renamo initially agreed, but then, on 1 November, demanded that the deadline be extended to a fortnight. On 14 November, the Commission on Public Administration would report back to the plenary the results of the negotiations between the parliamentary leaderships.
But Renamo has now insisted on yet another delay – a further week, for yet more negotiations between the parliamentary leaders of Frelimo, Renamo and the smaller opposition party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM).
Renamo’s only argument was that it “needs more time for reflection”. The request was immediately accepted by Frelimo, but not by the MDM, which saw no reason for changing a deadline that all deputies had agreed to,
The head of the Frelimo group, Margarida Talapa, cited in Tuesday’s issue of the Maputo daily “Noticias”, said Frelimo accepted the delay because it believes that “only with dialogue can the differences be solved in order to approve a consensual law”.
The MDM clearly believes there is no chance whatever to persuade Renamo to change its entrenched position. MDM parliamentary leader Lutero Simango told AIM that it was unacceptable to string out the time for negotiations indefinitely.
He pointed out that any delay is damaging. The amended electoral laws have to be approved before a new CNE can be set up. If the laws are not passed until December, the CNE cannot realistically be in place before late January.
The 2013 municipal elections must be held in October, and well before that date there must be a complete registration of the electorate. The timetable is becoming alarmingly tight, and Simango stressed that the MDM does not want any postponement in the elections.
The dispute between Frelimo and Renamo over the composition of the CNE and STAE, and particularly the role of political parties within them, is much the same as it was the last time the laws were amended, in 2006.
As Frelimo has repeatedly stressed, the calls from both local and foreign election observer groups have been for a smaller, more professional and less politicised CNE. Some of the most significant Mozambican civil society groups have called for a complete removal of political party appointees from the CNE, arguing for a fully independent body chosen from credible civil society organisations.
The CNE that supervised the 2008 municipal and 2009 general elections, and is still in existence, consisted of 13 members – five appointed by the parliamentary political parties (three by Frelimo and two by Renamo), and eight from civil society. But it was the five political party appointees who chose the civil society members from a list of around 40 nominations.
During the discussions on amending the law it seemed briefly that Frelimo might finally accept that political parties have no place on the CNE. In March, Frelimo proposed a seven member CNE, drawn exclusively from civil society.
This so horrified the opposition parties that Frelimo beat a retreat. It also struck a deal with MDM, which would give the MDM a seat on the CNE.
As a result, Frelimo and the MDM agreed on a formula that will give the political parties eight seats on the CNE and civil society organisations only five. AIM calculates that of the eight party seats on the CNE, Frelimo will appoint five, Renamo two and the MDM one.
Renamo’s proposal seeks an even more politicised CNE, in which the opposition parties will have a majority. The Renamo proposal is for a 17 member Commission – Frelimo, Renamo and the MDM would each appoint four members, two members would be appointed by extra-parliamentary opposition parties, and only three members would come from civil society.
Renamo describes this as “parity” – but in reality it is a formula designed to give the opposition the majority which the electorate has always denied it.
There is even sharper disagreement over the composition of the CNE’s executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE). As far as Frelimo is concerned, STAE is the electoral branch of the civil service, whose officials are recruited on a basis of merit through normal civil service procedures.
Renamo wants to completely politicise STAE, with staff appointed by Frelimo, Renamo, the MDM and the extra-parliamentary parties at all levels. Thus professional election officials would have political policemen looking over their shoulders all the time. This would be a return to the model of the late 1990s, which was a miserable failure.
It is hard to see what can possible be expected from further negotiations, since the head of the Renamo group, Angelina Enoque, has made it abundantly clear that Renamo has no intention of shifting from its position of “parity”.
However, Frelimo may have an ace up its sleeve – it could always tell Renamo that it is reverting to its position of March, for an entirely independent CNE with no political party appointees at all. And given Frelimo’s overwhelming majority in the Assembly, it would have no difficulty in passing that proposal, which would certainly win applause from most credible civil society bodies.
If Frelimo throws that onto the negotiating table, Renamo would then be faced with a dilemma – it could accept the Frelimo/MDM proposal which would at least give it a couple of CNE seats, or it could insist on “parity” and end up with nothing at all.
It remains to be seen whether Frelimo is prepared to take this leap forward.