11 December 2012

Mozambique: Assembly Passes Bill on Elections Commission

Photo: Renamo
Leader of the Mozambican National Resistance, Afonso Dhlakama.

Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Tuesday, approved the joint proposal from the ruling Frelimo Party and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) on the composition of a future National Elections Commission (CNE).

Under the bill passed on Tuesday, the CNE will consist of eight members appointed by the parties represented in parliament (five by Frelimo, two by the main opposition force, Renamo, and one by the MDM) , three members appointed by civil society organisations, one judge and one attorney. The CNE chairperson will be one of the civil society appointees.

The law states that civil society bodies may propose candidates for the CNE to an ad-hoc commission set up by the Assembly. From the names proposed, the ad-hoc commission will draw up a short list of between 12 and 16 names that will be submitted to the Assembly plenary.

A secret ballot vote in the plenary will choose the three CNE members, while the three runners-up become supplementary members who will take over if any of the full members dies, resigns or is incapacitated.

The judge will be appointed by the Higher Council of the Judicial Magistracy, and the attorney by the Higher Council of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Renamo opposed this composition of the CNE, and demanded what it calls “parity”. Its proposal was for a CNE of 14 members, all appointed by political parties – four by Frelimo, four by Renamo, four by the MDM and two by extra-parliamentary parties. This would be a CNE with an opposition majority of ten to four, and with no civil society representation at all.

The law also includes provincial, district and city elections commissions which will all have 11 members – 3 appointed by Frelimo, 2 by Renamo, one by the MDM, and five from civil society.

For the provincial commissions, civil society organisations must propose their candidates to the CNE. Civil society candidates for the district and city commissions are proposed to the relevant provincial elections commission.

The rejected Renamo proposal was that each provincial, district and city commission should consist of three members appointed by Frelimo, three by Renamo, three by the MDM and two by the extra-parliamentary parties.

The disagreement between Frelimo and the MDM on the one hand and Renamo on the other extends to the CNE’s executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE).

The bill as passed treats STAE as the electoral wing of the civil services, whose staff are recruited, based on merit, through normal civil service procedures. The post of General Director of STAE is publicly advertised, and the appointment is made by the CNE.

Renamo called for deputy general directors, appointed by the parliamentary parties, and for the provincial, district and city branches of STAE also to contain deputy directors from the political parties.

In Renamo’s proposal, in addition to permanent civil servants, STAE technical staff would also consist of political appointees – five each from Frelimo, Renamo and the MDM at central level, four in the provinces, and three in the district and city STAEs.

In the debate, Frelimo deputies dismissed the principle of “parity” as unheard of in any other electoral system, either in southern Africa, or elsewhere in the world. The Renamo proposal was “unacceptable, absurd and unrealistic”, said Alcido Ndwenya. “This so-called parity is an attempt to manipulate reality, transforming the majority chosen by universal suffrage into a minority”.

A further problem with the Renamo proposal, said Frelimo deputy Mario Sevene, was that it violated “the universal principle that such bodies should have an odd number of members, in order to avoid tied votes”.

Renamo’s real difficulty with the legislation, he suggested “is that it does not want elections to be held in 2013 and 2014, because it knows that it would lose and be reduced to nothing”.

For Renamo, Anselmo Vitor claimed that STAE “only consists of members of Frelimo. It’s a Frelimo institution with the sole task of producing false results”.

This was too much for Alfredo Gamito, chairperson of the Assembly’s Commisison on Public Administration, the body that drew up the amended legislation. He pointed out that under the Mozambican system the results are produced, not by STAE, but at the polling stations. The primary count is done at the polling stations, witnessed by polling station monitors appointed by the competing parties.

Put to the vote, the bill passed its first reading with 171 Frelimo and MDM deputies voting in favour, and 35 Renamo deputies voting against.

The Assembly also passed, by the same margin, the bill on the procedures for electing the President of the Republic and deputies to the Assembly of the Republic. Here there was disagreement over just one issue – should the political party monitors at the polling stations be given physical copies of the electoral register?

In the name of transparency, Renamo demanded hard copies of the register for all monitors. Frelimo and the MDM opposed this, partly on the grounds of data protection, and partly because of the huge amounts of paper that would be involved.

Gamito said that in the 2009 general elections there had been around 13,500 polling stations, and 20 competing parties. This time there will be more polling stations, because the maximum number of voters per polling station has been reduced from 1,000 to 800.

So hundreds of thousands of additional registers would be needed, in addition to the two which the law allows for each polling station (one to be stuck on the wall for the voters to consult, and one against which polling station staff tick off names as voters cast their ballots).

Gamito destroyed the Renamo arguments when he pointed out that, during the debates in the Commission, Frelimo had offered a digital version of the register to Renamo.

Frelimo had been prepared to give all competing parties the entire voters roll, polling station by polling station, in electronic format. Any party that wanted paper copies could print them out at its own expense.

But such is Renamo’s distrust of computers that it rejected Frelimo’s offer and insisted on hard copies.

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