21 November 2012

Mozambique: No Consensus Reached on Electoral Bodies

Maputo — Despite a week of meetings between the leaderships of the three political parties in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, there is still no consensus on the composition of the new National Elections Commission (CNE).

The Assembly’s Commission on Public Administration was given the task of amending the country’s electoral laws in 2010. Two and a half years later, the commission is still no nearer achieving any consensus on the composition of the CNE and of its executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE).

The Commission’s chairperson, Alfredo Gamito, reported the gulf between the ruling Frelimo party and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) on the one hand, and the main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, on the other, to the Assembly plenary on 31 October.

Gamito was clearly skeptical that any good would come of further negotiations, and wanted the Assembly to take a decision on the way forward then and there. But both Frelimo and Renamo deputies called for further negotiations between the leaderships of the parliamentary groups, and so a decision was postponed until 14 November.

14 November came, and Renamo insisted that the deadline be shifted to 21 November “in order for us to reflect so that we may better decide”.

Frelimo and the MDM accepted the demand, but four rounds of talks between the parliamentary leaderships (on 14, 16, 19 and 20 November) brought no breakthrough. Reporting to the plenary on Wednesday, Gamito said the discussions “did not produce any advance”.

The key dispute concerns the role of political parties in the CNE and STAE.

Renamo wants both bodies completely politicised and dominated by the opposition parties. Frelimo and the MDM allocate a role (albeit a secondary one) to civil society in the formation of the CNE, and agree that STAE, as the electoral branch of the civil service, should have no political party involvement.

At one point during the negotiations, however, Frelimo did float the idea that the CNE should be a small, and completely independent body.

Back in March, Frelimo had suggested a seven member CNE, drawn exclusively from civil society organisations. Last week, a refined version of this concept resurfaced – Frelimo suggested an even smaller CNE, of just five members – a judge (to be appointed by the Higher Council of the Judicial Magistracy), an attorney (to be appointed by the Higher Council of the Public Prosecutor’s Office), and three civil society appointees.

With this position gaining no support from either Renamo or the MDM, Frelimo retreated to its earlier position of a 13 member CNE, with a majority from political parties, decided in proportion to their strength in the Assembly.

As outlined by Gamito, the Frelimo/MDM proposal would mean a CNE with five members appointed by Frelimo, two by Renamo, and one by the MDM, three from civil society organisations, a judge and an attorney. The provincial, district and city elections commissions would all have 11 members – three appointed by Frelimo, two by Renamo, one by the MDM and five from civil society.

Renamo went into the final negotiations with a proposal for a 17 member CNE – four members from Frelimo, four from Renamo, four from the MDM, two from extra-parliamentary opposition parties, and three from civil society.

The only change Renamo made over the past week was to slim its proposal down to 14 members by jettisoning the three from civil society. Renamo is now proposing a CNE consisting entirely of political party appointees. This is in line with the repeated claims by Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama that Mozambican civil society “does not exist”.

As for STAE, Frelimo and the MDM maintained their position that STAE officials should be recruited on merit, chosen by normal civil service assessment procedures, while Renamo wanted STAE politicised from top to bottom.

In Renamo’s proposal, not only would there be deputy directors from the political parties looking over the shoulder of the STAE general director – but at every level (central, provincial, city and district) political nominees would dominate. Thus in each district STAE would have three officers appointed by Frelimo, three by Renamo and three by the MDM.

There are 128 rural districts – so at district level alone, this proposal implies 1,152 political appointees, all of them drawing wages and other perks.

A further issue in dispute is Renamo’s demand that physical copies of all the electoral registers for all polling stations (and there could easily be 20,000 of them in the 2014 general elections) should be given to all the candidates and competing parties. Frelimo rejects this on the grounds both of the practicalities of making so many paper copies of the register, and of the ethical problem of handing voters’ personal data over to the parties.

Renamo retorts that this is done elsewhere, including in southern African countries such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Privately, Frelimo parliamentarians admit that it might be possible to provide competing parties with an electronic version of the registers.

Gamito said the negotiations had been “long, exhausting and frustrating work”. He had hoped it would be possible to have fully consensual texts of the electoral laws which would be passed unanimously. Instead, it will now be necessary to vote on the laws (with the Frelimo/MDM versions as the main text, and the Renamo proposals as amendments).

Gamito pointed out that, since his commission started work on the laws in 2010, consensus had been achieved on the vast majority of the 600 or so articles in the law.

However, there are several places where this consensus has been achieved at a high cost. Thus Frelimo proposed that the elections among the Mozambican diaspora should be held on the weekend prior to the general elections in Mozambique. This was because, while election day is a public holiday in Mozambique, it is a normal working day in the countries where Mozambican emigrants live. Unable to take time off work to travel to the few polling stations and cast their votes, the great majority of Mozambican emigrants do not vote.

But Renamo suspected that holding the elections inside and outside the country on different days was some kind of fraudulent manoevre. Frelimo backed down, and so the election will be held on the same day wherever Mozambicans are living, resulting in the disenfranchisement of the great majority of Mozambican emigrants.

A second damaging Frelimo concession was on the issue of deposits for presidential candidates. There is currently a requirement for all candidates for the Presidency to deposit 100,000 meticais (about 3,330 US dollars). The money is only returned to the candidate who wins.

This requirement was in order to discourage no-hope candidates from minor parties, who run simply to obtain a slice of state campaign funds.

Renamo objected vociferously to the deposit, and so Frelimo agreed to scrap it. The result is likely to be a plethora of joke candidates in the 2014 presidential election.

No vote was taken on Gamito’s report. That could happen on Thursday or next week, with a vote on the electoral laws themselves scheduled for December.

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