8 February 2014

Mozambique: Gurue Election - High Turnout and Attempted Fraud

Maputo — Long queues built up on Saturday morning outside polling stations in Gurue, in the central Mozambican province of Zambezia, for the rerun of the elections for mayor and municipal assembly.

Like every other municipality, Gurue held the elections initially on 20 November - but election staff committed so many gross irregularities that the Constitutional Council, the highest body in matters of constitutional and electoral law, annulled the elections and ordered the rerun.

By 08.30 the two candidates for mayor, Jahanguir Jussub of the ruling Frelimo Party, and Orlando Janeiro, of the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), had cast their votes. Both expressed confidence in victory.

The 49 polling stations opened on time at 07.00, and observers going round the stations two hours later reported sizeable queues, of 100 to 200 people at each station. This may point to a much higher turnout than on 20 November. Then only 14,137 people out of 36,672 registered voters cast votes - a turnout of only 38.55 per cent.

But accusations of fraud have already marred the election. On its Facebook page, the MDM said that at one station in the Macar-projecto voting centre, the chairperson of the polling station, plus “a Frelimo woman militant who had come from Maputo” had been caught red-handed trying to slip two ballot papers, marked in advance in favour of Frelimo, into the ballot box.

A crowd gathered and wanted to lynch them. The police intervened and took them to the nearest police station. Some time later, according to the MDM, they had “mysteriously disappeared”.

The general director of the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), Felisberto Naife, confirmed to AIM that the chairperson of this polling station had been arrested. “He must answer for this”, Naife declared.

STAE press officer Lucas Jose, who is in Gurue, told AIM that STAE officials had gone to the police station, and had witnessed the formalization of the detention. He believed that the man was still under detention.

Jose said that STAE had recovered the keys to the polling station from the detained chairperson, and had delivered them to his replacement, the deputy chairperson.

The MDM was angered to find that the chairpersons of some polling stations are senior civil servants. Thus, the chairperson of polling station 04009501, at Gurue Secondary School, is Farias Noé, District Director of Youth, Education and Technology.

This is not actually illegal, but it is bound to cause suspicions since there is a general assumption that high ranking civil servants are Frelimo members or supporters.

Lutero Simango, head of the MDM parliamentary group, who has been helping his party's campaign in Gurue, told the independent television station STV that people are chosen for the post of district director on the basis of political confidence rather than their professional skills.

Putting such people in charge of polling stations, he said, was a sign of the lack of professionalism of STAE.

One incident which might have turned ugly was an attempt by members of the Youth Parliament to carry out a survey among voters. They appeared at the polling stations wearing Youth Parliament T-shirts but, according to Lucas Jose, none of them were accredited as election observers.

STAE declared that the survey was illegal, since the election law bans all opinion polls. The relevant clause in the law that states “It is forbidden to publish the results of opinion polls or of surveys of voters' opinions and the way they intend to vote from the start of the election campaign until the publication of the election results by the National Elections Commission”.

The chairperson of the Youth Parliament, Salomao Muchanga, complained to STV that this survey was not an opinion poll, and so was not covered by the law. However, the wording of the law is broad and covers anything which asks for voters' opinion and not just questions about who they intend to vote for.

The Youth Parliament reluctantly accepted STAE's instructions. Jose said they then went to the Gurue District Elections Commission to ask for credentials as observers.

In one area, according to a report in the “Mozambique Political Process Bulletin”, published by the NGO, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), the Youth Parliament members were confused with Frelimo campaigners and were threatened by local people. They had to be rescued by the police.

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