Mozambique: Frelimo Wins Local Elections, Opposition Gains

Photo: Verdade
The opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) on campaign trail.

Frelimo has won most of the 53 municipalities contested in local elections in Mozambique on 20 November, but the opposition has made significant gains in the centre of the country.

A re-run was set for 1 December in the northern city of Nampula where the results of mayoral and council elections were annulled due to misprinting of ballot papers and unsupervised movement of ballot boxes. Initial results of this rerun indicate a very close contest.

Election results in the other 52 localities are considered "preliminary" as they are still to be verified by the National Elections Commission (CNE) before validation and proclamation by the Constitutional Council in the coming days.

Other smaller parties also contested and won some council seats in specific areas, but only two parties contested on a national level.

The ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) party won 50 of the municipalities contested for mayor and councils but significant gains were made in the centre of the country by the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), whose leadership broke away from the Mozambique Resistance Movement (Renamo) in 2009 to form the new party.

This is the first time MDM has entered party candidates to contest the local elections, although they won a mayoral by-election Quelimane in 2012.

The previous elections in 2008 were contested by the former rebel group Renamo which lacked organizational skills and fared badly in the polls.

Renamo did not contest these municipal elections and has been eclipsed by their offshoot MDM, which is now well-placed to contest national elections in 2014.

MDM candidates won re-election for mayor in the port cities of Beira and Quelimane, the capitals of Sofala and Zambezia provinces where Renamo has been active in armed attacks in recent months.

However, the difference now is that MDM also won a majority in the municipal councils in those two cities, which were previously controlled by Frelimo.

Thus the governance of both cities is controlled by the opposition, which increased its margin of the vote to almost 70 percent in both races in both localities, although the turnout was just 55 percent of registered voters.

The MDM leader, Daviz Simango, won the leadership of Beira for the third time, increasing his margin of popular support.

The first time he contested and won as Renamo in 2003, but in 2008, the Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama refused to endorse his candidacy so he ran as an independent, shortly thereafter forming the new party with a number of other colleagues.

This is the first time he is contesting this position as MDM and he won handily, as did the Major of Quelimane who first gained the chair in a by-election last year. Both candidates won with almost 70 percent of the vote.

MDM also increased its share of the vote in the central city of Tete, in the same province as the giant Cahora Bassa dam that generates electricity for the region. Although Frelimo won the election for mayor and council, its share of the vote was reduced to 65 percent.

MDM will be encouraged because this result greatly improved on the opposition's performance in Tete at the last local elections, in 2008.

The main opposition force then was Renamo, which won 12.2 per cent in the mayoral election and 12.5 per cent in the assembly election, while MDM has increased this to almost 35 percent.

Frelimo won comfortably in all municipalities in the southern provinces, including the capital Maputo, where the results are being challenged by MDM.

In Nampula province, where Renamo attacked a farm during the election campaign, the election in the capital city was annulled due to errors in ballot papers for mayor, which were printed in South Africa and omitted the name of one candidate nominated by a smaller party.

The election for the municipal assembly in Nampula was also annulled but for different reasons. The CNE decision was that the council votes would be counted at the same time as the mayoral ballots after the rerun on 1 December, but the ballot boxes were moved without party agents present so the election was also subject to rerun.

Although the ruling Frelimo Party headed by President Armando Guebuza has won the vast majority of seats, the MDM has made a strong showing in some urban areas and has become the main opposition party in the country.

Despite overwhelming victories in Beira and Quelimane with 70 percent of the vote for both mayor and councils, MDM is contesting the result saying the margin should have been even larger.

MDM is protesting against the preliminary results in ten municipalities in different parts of the country -- Maputo, Matola, Beira, Quelimane, Chimoio, Gorongosa, Marromeu, Mocuba, Gurue and Milange.

The challenge in Marromeu on the southern bank of the Zambezi river is due to the high number of spoiled ballots which is above 10 percent.

In Chimoio, less than 100 kms from the Zimbabwe border, in Manicaland province, and in several centres in Sofala and Zambezi provinces (Gorongosa, Mocuba, Milange and Gurue), the MDM is using a parallel count for their challenge.

The Gurue result was very close with just one vote separating the Frelimo and MDM mayoral candidates, with a low turnout of 39 per cent. The result will hinge on the votes declared invalid at the polling stations.

The major MDM gains in the local elections were in the provinces where Renamo has been active, in Zambezia and Sofala in the centre of the country, where Renamo gunmen have recently attacked vehicles and police posts, suggesting a symbiotic relationship between the former rebel movement and its breakaway party.

Renamo was formed by Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa after Mozambique's independence in 1975 for the purpose of destabilizing Mozambique and neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe.

Although Renamo signed a peace accord with Frelimo in 1992 after two years of negotiations in Rome, they have a record of making threatening statements or conducting attacks in the months before elections ever since, as they have done again in the past year.

The election campaign and the elections were generally well organized and peaceful, although there were armed attacks on two vehicles in a remote area of Sofala province just two days after the elections, according to the Mozambique news agency AIM, apparently for looting of foodstuffs.

Renamo has demanded talks with the government and this has been arranged on several occasions, but Renamo representatives have not appeared at the venue in Maputo, despite having 51 members of parliament in Maputo. Frelimo holds 191 seats and MDM has eight.

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