Maputo — The Chairperson of Mozambique's National Elections Commission (CNE), Abdul Carimo, on Tuesday urged voters in the northern city of Nampula to turn up en masse at the polling stations for Wednesday's mayoral by-election.
The by-election was precipitated by the assassination of the mayor of Nampula, Mahamudo Amurane, on 4 October. To date, nobody has been arrested in connection with this crime.
The country's three main political parties waged vigorous campaigns in the city over the past fortnight, and all brought in national political heavyweights to argue why Nampula citizens should back their candidates.
The opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) won the 2013 municipal elections in Nampula, and lays claim to the legacy of Amurane - even though, in the last year of his life, Amurane himself was involved in a bitter and highly public dispute with the MDM leader Daviz Simango.
The MDM is hoping to repeat its 2013 triumph with Carlos Saide, a 48 year old businessman who was councillor for town planning under Amurane.
The ruling Frelimo Party had never lost control of Nampula prior to 2013, and now it hopes to win the city back. Its candidate, Amisse Cololo, is a 58 year old lecturer at the Catholic University of Mozambique. He has also served in the Nampula provincial government as Director of Labour, and has headed the secretariat of the Nampula Provincial Assembly. Even if Cololo wins, he will have to work with a municipal assembly that has an MDM majority.
The main opposition party, the rebel movement Renamo, boycotted the 2013 municipal elections, thus ensuring that they were a two horse race between Frelimo and the MDM throughout the country. Renamo has now ended its boycott and is running Paulo Vahanle, who is a teacher and a member of the national parliament, the Assembly of the Republic.
Renamo's entry into the race raises the real possibility that on Wednesday nobody will win over 50 per cent of the vote. If that happens, there must be a run-off between the two candidates with the most votes.
There are also two minor candidates - Filomena Mutoropa, of the Humanitarian Party of Mozambique (PAHUMO), and Mario Albino of the newly formed Action Party of the United Movement for Complete Salvation (AMUSI).
In his address to the voters, Carimo declared that a massive turnout on Wednesday “means democratic maturity. It gives authority and legitimacy to the elected candidate, making him a true representative of the inhabitants of the Nampula municipality”.
Carimo explained that the polling stations are in the same places where Nampula citizens registered as voters prior to the 2013 municipal elections and 2014 general elections. “We are urging all voters to make their way as soon as possible to the polling stations and to remain in the queues in an orderly and peaceful manner”.
The election is being held on the basis of the 2014 electoral registers. No voter registration has taken place since then, which means that all Nampula residents who reached the voting age of 18 since 2014 have been disenfranchised.
Carimo stressed that political party monitors are entitled to inspect all operations at the polling stations. “They have the right to be heard and to be given explanations about all questions raised during the functioning of the polling stations, during both the voting and the count”, he said, “and they may present complaints, protests and counter-protests concerning the electoral operations”.
Over a thousand national and foreign observers have been accredited for this by-election, and Carimo said their actions “have a fundamental impact, because they provide multi-faceted support in the development of democratic institutions and in improving procedures with a view to holding elections of a high standard”.
He told the observers “we expect of you impartiality, independence, objectivity and political neutrality under all circumstances”.
As for the police, Carimo said it must maintain public order and tranquillity, and ensure that voting takes place in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. The police are expected to obey norms laid down in the electoral legislation and in a specific code of conduct for police officers approved by the CNE.
Carimo insisted that, after casting their ballots, voters should leave the polling stations and wait calmly for the results at home.
However, both Renamo and the MDM are threatening to gather their supporters outside the polling stations, supposedly to prevent any attempted fraud. They claim they are entitled to do so, as long as they remain at least 300 metres from the polling station.
Such attempts “to control the vote” happened in several places during the 2014 general elections and resulted in clashes between opposition supporters and the police.
The Renamo and MDM threats reveal a surprising lack of confidence in their own polling station monitors. Each party is entitled to appoint two monitors for each polling station. There are 401 polling stations in Nampula, and both Renamo and the MDM have appointed their full total of 802 monitors.
Furthermore, each polling station has seven members of staff who organise all electoral operations, and three are appointed by the political parties (one by Frelimo, one by Renamo and one by the MDM). Thus the parties are directly involved in checking the identity of voters, ensuring that nobody votes twice, and counting the votes at the end of the day.