27 December 2012

Mozambique: Local Elections Can Be Held On Time - Gamito

Maputo — Alfredo Gamito, chairperson of the Public Administration Commission of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, is confident that the municipal elections scheduled for late 2013 can be held on time, despite the late passage through parliament of amended electoral legislation.

In May 2010, the Assembly charged Gamito’s commission with rewriting the legislation. The task took two and a half years, largely because the main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, refused to compromise on its demand for an opposition majority on the National Elections Commission (CNE).

The legislation was passed last week, less than a year before the municipal elections. A new CNE must now be set up, plus subordinate elections commissions in all provinces, districts and cities. The CNE cannot be set up before the next Assembly sitting, which begins in February.

Eight of the 13 CNE members are appointed by the three parliamentary groups – five by the ruling Frelimo Party, two by Renamo and one by the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM). Furthermore the Assembly plenary must also vet the three CNE members proposed by civil society organisations.

The new 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.

At a meeting in Maputo on Monday to explain the new laws, organised by the Electoral Observatory, the country’s largest election observation body, Gamito was confident that setting up the ad-hoc commission, and all other necessary procedures would be undertaken by the Assembly immediately the next sitting begins.

Furthermore, there was no legal vacuum. Gamito said that, even if the amended laws had not been passed, the 2013 municipal elections would have gone ahead on the basis of the existing legislation. Nor was it true that there is currently no CNE – the old CNE, which organised the 2008 municipal and 2009 general elections still exists, and only leaves office when a new CNE is sworn in.

Gamito believed that some preparations for the elections could be undertaken immediately by the existing CNE and its executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE).

“There is no legal or technical problem in holding municipal elections in 2013”, he insisted.

Apart from the composition of the CNE and STAE, the other issue on which Renamo refused to compromise was its demand that all polling station monitors from the competing parties should receive a paper copy of the voter roll for their station.

Frelimo objected, partly because of the confidentiality of the voters’ data, and partly because of the huge amount of paper that would be required. Gamito pointed out that Frelimo offered a compromise – an electronic version of the entire voter roll could be provided for each party, which could then, using its own money and paper, print out whatever it wanted.

Renamo, which has always been suspicious of computers, rejected this proposal and, since neither Frelimo nor the MDM were interested in giving monitors their own copy of the register, the law as passed contains no provision for either a hard or an electronic version to be distributed.

“It was a Renamo proposal”, said Gamito, “and Renamo didn’t accept any change to its proposal. So the proposal fell”.

Nonetheless, the registers will be available for consultation at the voter registration posts, so that voters can check that their names have been included correctly. On election day itself, each polling station will have two copies of its register – one for use by polling station staff, for ticking off the names of people as they vote, while the other will be stuck on the wall to guide the voters.

Gamito pointed out among the concessions that Frelimo made to Renamo was to abandon the eminently sensible proposal that voters in the diaspora should cast their ballots the weekend before the election inside Mozambique. The problem for Mozambican emigrants is that their employers will not allow them time off work in order to vote.

Inside Mozambique election day is always a public holiday, precisely to encourage maximum turnout. But in the countries hosting Mozambican emigrants there is no such holiday, and so turnout in the diaspora is usually very low.

Frelimo hoped to boost turnout among the emigrants by allowing them to vote early. Gamito said Renamo regarded this as a conspiracy – it feared that emigrants in the countries bordering Mozambique (such as South Africa, Zimbabwe or Malawi) would all cross the frontier to cast a second vote later in the week.

This was a wildly unlikely scenario. The logistics of moving thousands of Mozambicans across the borders twice (once to register and once to vote) are formidable. Nonetheless, Gamito said Frelimo decided not to fight on this issue but gave way to the Renamo demand.

Among the innovations stressed by Gamito is that polling stations must be sited at the same place where the voters registered. In previous general elections, people in rural areas might have to walk for ten kilometres or longer to reach the nearest polling station. The change means that there will be a polling station in every village.

Combined with the rule that reduces the maximum number of voters registered per polling station from 1,000 to 800, this means there will be a dramatic increase in the number of polling stations. In 2009, there were 12,600 polling stations. For 2014, the number could easily increase to over 20,000.

Gamito stressed that polling stations must be open uninterruptedly from 07.00 until 18.00. Apparently, in the past staff have closed polling stations for lunch, leaving voters in frustrated queues outside.

Furthermore, the primary count must take place at the polling stations.

Gamito stressed there can be no question of taking the ballot boxes somewhere else to count the votes.

The new laws also state that public funds for general election campaigns must be disbursed to the competing parties at least 21 days before the start of the campaign. Opposition parties, however, wanted to get their hands on the money much earlier – the MDM had suggested 45 days before the start of campaigning, Renamo 60 days, and a group of extra-parliamentary parties calling itself the G-35 had called for 90 days.

Gamito said that, in a written submission, EISA (Electoral Institute of Southern Africa) suggested that, before handing out any money, there should be a test to check on whether the political parties concerned really existed. For there are many parties that registered with the Justice Ministry years ago, and only come to life at election time, buoyed up with an injection of public funds. These are “parties” that have no offices, no publications and no websites.

Unfortunately, the EISA proposal was not accepted, and so fictitious political parties will continue to demand funds from the state budget every five years.

On minor party leader, Francisco Campira of the Social Broadening Party (PASOMO), demanded more money. He complained to Gamito that much more money goes to the parties represented in parliament (who have proved they have popular support) than to the extra-parliamentary parties, and regarded this as deeply unfair.

An Electoral Observatory member who had recently returned from observing the elections in Ghana, pointed out that under the Ghanaian law no public funds were channelled to the campaigns of political parties. Yet that did not seem to reduce political competition in Ghana.

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