Maputo — Crowds of supporters of the ruling Frelimo Party and of the Renamo rebel movement gathered on Saturday morning outside the offices of the two parties in the northern city of Nampula, for the start of the campaign for the second round of the mayoral by-election.
The campaign will run for ten days, and the election will take place on 14 March. A run-off second round is necessary because no candidate won over 50 per cent of the votes in the first round on 24 January. Under Mozambican legislation, the two candidates with the most votes, Amisse Cololo of Frelimo and Paulo Vahanle of Renamo, must now face each other.
Cololo won 44.51 per cent on the first round, and Vahanle won 40.32 per cent. But there was a very low turnout. Out of a registered Nampula electorate of 296,590 only 73,952 people voted, a turnout of 24.9 per cent. The result of the second round may hinge on how many of the 75 per cent who stayed at home in January can be persuaded to come out and vote this time.
Vahanle's campaign received a boost from the declaration by the second largest opposition party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), that it will support Vahanle. In the first round, the MDM candidate, Carlos Saide, took 10.1 per cent of the vote.
On Saturday, Cololo and his supporters marched through the streets of the city to the Frelimo offices in the neighbourhood of Muatala.
“I am relying on your vote so that we can solve the concerns we have in the city”, said Cololo, speaking in the local language, emakhuwa. “We need more water and of better quality, we need improved roads, we need to collect the garbage. That's our undertaking”.
Frelimo Political Commission member, and former Finance Minister Tomas Salomao, who is heading the Frelimo central brigade to Nampula, urged the city's voters to opt for Cololo. “Nampula citizens who voted for other candidates on the first round, we are relying on your votes”, he declared.
Vahanle and the Renamo supporters marched to the city's main wholesale market. “We shall improve the markets, we shall restructure public transport, and create jobs for the young people who have been abandoned here “, he promised. “We shall clean up the markets which are full of filth”.
Despite calls for a peaceful campaign, some of the Renamo marchers attacked Frelimo supporters outside a Frelimo district office. AIM watched as police intervened to calm the situation. Supporters of the two parties blamed each other for the clash.
The by-election has resulted in suspension of the current sitting of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic. The sitting opened with formal speeches from the chairperson and the leaders of the three parliamentary groups on Wednesday, discussed two government bills on Thursday, and then adjourned until 20 March,
The demand for an adjournment came from Renamo deputy Saimone Macuiana, on the grounds that Renamo parliamentarians wanted to go to Nampula to support their party's campaign. Frelimo, while less than happy at this sudden three week interruption, did not argue against it.
The interruption means less time is available for discussing the Assembly's crowded agenda, which is headed by controversial constitutional amendments which will abolish direct elections of mayors in the country's 53 municipalities. Instead, the winning party in the municipal assembly election will simply appoint the mayor.
If these proposals are passed, the Nampula by-election will be the last mayoral election, and the last time that names of mayoral candidates appear on the ballot papers.