Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Thursday passed unanimously the second and final reading of bills from the former rebel movement Renamo, altering procedures for general, provincial and municipal elections.
Perhaps the most important change, given the experience of police behaviour in previous elections, is a guarantee of near total immunity for polling station monitors representing the political parties and the candidates.
After a couple of redrafts, the Assembly's Commission on Public Administration, which prepared the final version of the bills, hit on the simple formulation that “monitors of the candidates cannot be detained while the polling station is functioning”.
An article elsewhere in the bill states that, if a monitor has committed a crime which is punishable by a prison term, he can be arrested, but only after all the voting materials have been delivered from the polling stations to the district or city elections commission.
This should end the arbitrary arrests of opposition polling station monitors which the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) complained of during the 20 November municipal elections. Such detentions made it impossible for the monitors to do their job of observing the count.
The MDM's bitter experience in November led it to demand that the three parliamentary parties (the ruling Frelimo Party, Renamo and itself) should be allowed to appoint members of the polling station staff - one per party in each polling station. At the last moment, this MDM amendment was incorporated into the bill.
The bill also stipulates that, at least 45 days before the elections, the National Elections Commission (CNE) must give each competing party an electronic copy of the voters' roll.
The chairperson of the Public Administration Commission, Alfredo Gamito, pointed out that the Frelimo parliamentary group had offered this to Renamo in 2012. Renamo had refused, saying that it would only accept hard copies of the voters' roll.
“Now this amendment appears as if it's a Renamo proposal”, mused Gamito.
The bill also includes a provision that would allow recounts. There have never been recounts in previous elections. In the event of irregularities at any polling station, the CNE, the Constitutional Council (Mozambique's highest body in matters of constitutional and electoral law), or any candidate may demand a recount.
The votes will then be recounted by the District or City Elections Commission, in the presence of the candidates' election agents.
As for election disputes, these will be handled, not, as is currently the case, by the CNE, but by the district courts. Appeals against any irregularity in a polling station count would go to a district court within 48 hours, and within the next 48 hours the court must give its reply. If the party concerned is not satisfied, it can appeal to the Constitutional Council within three days.
The bill demands that the courts, from the start of voter registration (which began on 15 February) through to the final declaration of the results, must treat election disputes with urgency, giving them priority over all other matters.
On the ballot papers, Renamo had insisted that there should be no more ballot papers than the number of voters at each station. Gamito's Commission added an extra 10 per cent, to deal with cases where voters accidentally spoil their ballot papers and request new ones.
Gamito said Frelimo, Renamo and the MDM all agreed that 10 per cent was too much - but claimed the Assembly's hands were tied because 10 per cent was the figure mentioned in the minutes from the dialogue between Renamo and the government.