Maputo — Mozambique’s main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, on Wednesday once again boycotted a report from the parliamentary ad-hoc commission drawing up amendments to the country’s constitution.
When the commission was set up in 2010, Renamo said there was no need to amend the constitution, and refused to take the seats reserved for it on the commission.
It subsequently refused to attend any plenary session of the country’s parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, at which the Constitution was discussed, and Wednesday was no exception. As soon as the chairperson of the ad-hoc commission, Eduardo Mulembue, was called to the rostrum, the Renamo parliamentary group all left the room, and only returned when the brief debate was over.
To date, the amendments proposed by Mulembue’s commission, almost all of them from the parliamentary group of the ruling Frelimo Party, are fairly minor. Perhaps the most significant is that reference to “traditional authorities” has been replaced by the much broader term “community authorities”.
The amendment commits the Mozambican state to “recognizing and valuing community authorities”, which are defined as “traditional chiefs, village or neighbourhood secretaries, and other leaders legitimized as such by their respective communities”.
Mulembue stressed that the amendments will “establish, one and for all, within the constitution, the period within which elections must take place”. After the amended constitution takes effect, presidential and parliamentary elections, municipal elections and elections for provincial assemblies, must all take place in the first fortnight of October.
Mulembue said this was because the commission “reached the conclusion that elections must take place in the dry season, when the roads to the most remote areas are passable”. (Technically, the rainy season begins in October, but usually there is not much rainfall in the first fortnight of the month.)
The amendments also reinstate two Frelimo positions on the elections, which the party withdrew from the electoral laws passed last Friday, as a concession to Renamo. One is that all presidential candidates must deposit a sum of money, to be fixed in a future law. This is intended to deter joke candidates.
This clause existed during the 2009 elections, when the deposit was fixed at 100,000 meticais (about 3,370 US dollars), only returnable to the winning candidate. Renamo claimed that this was undemocratic and even unconstitutional, and Frelimo agreed to drop it from the amended laws.
So there will be no deposit required from candidates in the 2014 presidential election. But if, as seems certain, the constitutional amendments are passed, deposits will become a fixed feature of future presidential elections.
The amendments also state that elections among Mozambicans in the diaspora will be held on a date before the elections inside Mozambique. This is because elections in Mozambique are held on a weekday, which is declared a public holiday. But the date is not a holiday in the countries where Mozambican emigrants live, and many of them are unable to take time off work to go to the few polling stations (usually in embassies or consulates) to cast their votes.
Holding elections in the diaspora at the weekend prior to the vote inside Mozambique should encourage a higher turnout. Renamo successfully opposed this change to the electoral law, but its boycott of the ad-hoc commission meant it could not oppose it as a constitutional amendment.
Mulembue also stressed that the amendments strengthen guarantees of access to justice. They declare that “the state shall uphold speedy justice for all citizens and legally recognised bodies”, and that “the administration of justice shall be exercised with professionalism, responsibility, integrity, objectivity and impartiality”.
The amendments make no significant changes in the political system. Nor is there any attempt to allow the President of the Republic to hold more than two consecutive five year terms of office. In some opposition circles, it had been suspected that the whole point of the constitutional amendments was to allow President Armando Guebuza a third term – but this is not included in the Frelimo draft, and Guebuza has repeatedly stressed that he has no intention of being a candidate in 2014.
Mulembue said that the draft amendments will now be debated publicly throughout the country from February to April. The amendments will then be reworked in light of the debate and deposited in the Assembly in November 2013.
This would allow them to be voted on in December 2013, or at the first Assembly sitting of 2014. They would not take effect until after the 2014 general elections.