Maputo — At the opening on Wednesday of the first sitting in 2018 of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, both the ruling Frelimo Party, and the main opposition party, the rebel movement Renamo, welcomed the consensus on “decentralisation” reached in the long drawn-out negotiations between the government and Renamo.
But the third party in the Assembly, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), attacked the proposal to remove the right of municipal citizens to voter directly for mayors.
The consensus, announced by President Filipe Nyusi on 7 February, has now been put into a series of constitutional amendments that will be debated during this Assembly sitting. But their passage, at least in their current form, is far from guaranteed.
Initially, the Assembly's Commission on Constitutional and Legal Affairs was given 15 days to produce a written opinion on the amendments. But the Commission's chairperson, Edson Macuacua, has gone back to the Assembly's governing board, its Standing Commission to ask for more time.
The key change in the amendments is a shift of power into the hands of party machines. Up until now, mayors have been directly elected alongside the Municipal Assembly. But the amendments propose electing only the Assembly - then whichever political party or group wins a majority of votes in the Assembly election nominates the mayor.
There have never been any elected provincial governors or district administrators before, but the amendments propose a carbon copy of municipal elections for provinces and districts. Provincial and district assemblies will be elected, and then the winning party in each assembly chooses who becomes governor or administrator.
This transfer of power from the electorate to the parties has alarmed some jurists. Thus an article in Tuesday's issue of the independent daily “O Pais” by one of the country's top constitutional lawyers, Teodato Hunguana, who was once a judge on the Constitutional Council, Mozambique's highest body in matters of constitutional law, warned that the proposed cancellation of universal suffrage for the election of mayors is entirely unconstitutional, and cannot be rescued by any constitutional amendment or even by a referendum.
Article 2 of the Constitution states that “Sovereignty resides in the people”, but the amendments, Hunguana argued, “transfer the ownership of sovereignty, which would cease to reside in the people and would instead reside in the parties”.
From speaking with several deputies, AIM is aware that Hunguana's concerns are shared among at least some members of both the Frelimo and the MDM parliamentary groups.
In her formal opening speech, the head of the Frelimo group, Margarida Talapa, was cautious and measured. She praised President Filipe Nyusi for the consensus reached in the dialogue with Renamo, and even expressed “appreciation” for Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama “for his willingness to take part in dialogue and to build the important consensus achieved so far”.
Talapa pledged that the Frelimo group “will do everything to make the consensus achieved in dialogue viable”.
Frelimo, she said, had promised that it would work to ensure “effective peace”, putting the national interest above all others. Nyusi was showing that “Frelimo does not, and will never, break its word to the Mozambican people”.
When Talapa's counterpart on the Renamo benches, Ivone Soares, spoke, the contrast was stark. Soares was euphoric, and made it clear that she believed Renamo had won a major victory in the proposed constitutional amendments.
“We are full of hope that Mozambique will never be the Mozambique of the past”, she declared. “We want to believe that Mozambique will be a different Mozambique”.
“The path now is forwards”, Soares said. “It may seem difficult, but it will be brilliant. Anyone can do what is easy, and it wouldn't need leaders, people of courage and good faith. Dealing with sensitive and difficult matters required brave, serious honest and visionary men who believe in the brilliant future of Mozambique”.
One such man, she claimed, was Dhlakama (who is her uncle). She praised Dhlakama as “a tireless defender of the fundamental rights of citizens”, and a man who “since he was young has sacrificed his welfare in the search for the welfare of the majority”. (This sanitised version of history omits Dhlakama's role as a willing agent of the Rhodesian and South African apartheid regimes in their wars against Mozambique).
Soares claimed that “in each epoch God sends an envoy to teach men never to lose hope”, suggesting that in modern Mozambique that envoy is Afonso Dhlakama.
The head of the MDM parliamentary group, Lutero Simango, denounced the attempt to remove from citizens the right to elect mayors directly. He pointed out that the main question raised in past discussions over decentralisation was how to govern the provinces, and “at no point was municipal governance and the election of mayors called into question”.
The proposed constitutional amendments “take away a right that municipal citizens have been exercising since 1998”.
The result of the proposed amendments would be that the only named individual elected in the future would be the President of the Republic, and everything else would be on the basis of political party lists.
Simango did not regard this as genuine decentralisation, and warned that the Assembly “should not act as an echo chamber when debating this proposal”.
“There must be courage, good faith and political will to reinvent the Mozambican state on the basis of inclusive popular participation and respect for direct universal suffrage”, he urged.