Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Monday postponed the election of a new ombudsman into next year since there was no consensus on a replacement for the incumbent, Jose Abudo, whose five year term of office expired in May.
The ruling Frelimo Party proposed Justice Minister Isaque Chande for the job, while the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), proposed an MDM parliamentary deputy, Silverio Ronguane.
The main opposition party, the rebel movement Renamo, proposed no candidate, and the head of the Renamo parliamentary group, Ivone Soares, issued a statement last week that was misinterpreted as offering tacit support for Chande.
She said she expected that Chande “will respect the law scrupulously and ensure that the Mozambicans will have a diligent ombudsman with the resources necessary to assist the people in their various complaints and petitions”.
On social media angry MDM supporters condemned Renamo for supporting the Frelimo candidate. In parts of the media, it was also assumed that Renamo was supporting Chande. Monday's issue of the independent newssheet “Mediafax”, for example, said that Renamo was endorsing Chande, noting that this was “very unusual” in the Assembly.
As the deputies filed into the chamber for Monday's proceedings, voting booths and ballot boxes were ready for the election. But by mid-morning it became clear that in reality Renamo had no intention of supporting either candidate. The Assembly's governing board, the Standing Commission, thus proposed delaying the election until the next sitting of the Assembly, in early 2018.
The Mozambican Constitution requires the ombudsman to be elected by a two thirds majority of the Assembly deputies. Since there are 250 deputies, a successful candidate requires 167 votes.
Abudo was elected ombudsman in 2012, when Frelimo on its own had a two thirds majority, and did not require the support of any other party. But Frelimo lost its absolute majority in the 2014 parliamentary election. The current parliament has 144 Frelimo deputies, 89 from Renamo and 17 from the MDM.
Even if Frelimo and the MDM were to vote together, that only comes to 161 votes. Achieving a two thirds majority requires either that Frelimo and Renamo support the same candidate, or that at least 23 opposition deputies break ranks and support the Frelimo candidate - something that has never happened in the entire history of the Assembly.
When the true Renamo position was known, the Assembly's chairperson, Veronica Macamo, proposed the postponement of the election, on the grounds that there was no point in holding an election when it was known in advance that no candidate could win.
MDM deputy Venancio Mondlane protested that, since the election is by secret ballot, nobody could know which way the deputies might cast their ballots in the secrecy of the voting booth. “This depends on the conscience of each of the deputies”, he declared. The Assembly had a quorum, and so the election should go ahead.
He was supported by some of the Renamo group. “Never in the history of the Assembly have we asked the heads of the parliamentary groups how to vote”, declared Renamo deputy Simeao Macuiana. “The vote is secret, and the vote is here, in the plenary, not in the Standing Commission”.
A second Renamo deputy, Izequiel Gusse, took the opposing view. “One thing is legality, and another is legalism”, he said. “Not everything that is legal is just. Veronica Macamo's position is the most reasonable”.
The head of the Frelimo group, Margarida Talapa, supported the postponement. “This way nobody loses”, she said. “A delay is not the same as a retreat”.
Legally, Mondlane and Macuiana were certainly in the right. But in practical terms there was no alternative to a postponement. Party discipline has always been rigid in the Assembly, regardless of whether the voting is open or by secret ballot. Without a candidate supported by both Frelimo and Renamo a two thirds majority would be impossible.
When the motion for a postponement was put to the vote it was carried by 139 votes to 15 with 70 abstentions. Frelimo voted en bloc for the postponement, the MDM against, while all the Renamo deputies in the chamber abstained.
The post is not vacant, since the law allows Abudo to continue in office as ombudsman until a replacement can be elected.