Maputo — The chairperson of Mozambique's National Elections Commission (CNE), Abdul Carimo, on Tuesday urged all registered voters in the country's 53 municipalities to cast their votes in Wednesday's municipal elections.
In an exhortation to the nation, he said the election "is a great opportunity to enjoy the constitutionally enshrined right of universal suffrage". Voting in these elections would be "a clear demonstration of the will to deepen our democracy, and to choose freely and consciously the bodies of municipal management".
He urged voters to make their way early to the polling stations, and to remain in peaceful and orderly queues until it was their turn to vote. They should then go home and await the results - Carimo pointed out that it is illegal for people who have already voted to remain within the polling stations.
Addressing the over 38,000 polling station staff, Carimo said "we expect an exemplary performance from you that will make this day shine and will show that our country is taking significant steps in consolidating genuinely democratic elections".
He urged the MMVs to show "a great deal of discipline, zeal, selflessness, professionalism and impartiality". That applied also to the MMVs appointed by the political parties who must "take off their political clothing when performing their duties and act as members of this great electoral team".
He warned that MMVs must not use telephones, and must not bring to the polling stations any rucksacks, briefcases or anything else which might be the object of suspicion or mistrust.
The police officers at the polling stations, Carimo said, must not only guarantee public order, but must "ensure that citizens feel free and tranquil, so that they can vote without any fear, intimidation or coercion.
In the voter registration earlier this year, the CNE's executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) registered 3,910,712 people in the municipalities, which was 90 per cent of its target.
According to STAE spokesperson Claudio Langa, there will be 1,139 polling sites containing a total of 5,459 polling stations. There will be 38,213 polling station staff (MMVs) - seven per polling station. Of these, four have been chosen by STAE through a public tender, while the other three are appointed by the three parties represented in parliament, namely the ruling Frelimo Party, the former rebel movement Renamo, and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM).
The elections are for members of the municipal assemblies, which vary in size depending on the population of the municipality. STAE puts the total number of seats in the 53 Assemblies at 1,388.
Following the February agreement on decentralisation between President Filipe Nyusi and the then leader of Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama, the direct election of mayors has been abolished. Although this was justified in the name of decentralisation, the real effect is to strengthen political parties, and eliminate the possibility of powerful mayors independent of the parties.
In all previous municipal elections, there have been two ballot papers - one for the mayor and one for the municipal assembly. Now there is just one ballot paper, for the Assembly, containing just the names and symbols of the parties and groups competing.
The head of the list of whichever party wins a majority of votes will automatically become mayor. But neither the name of the head of the list, nor his photograph, will appear on the ballot paper.
Previously a mayoral candidate needed over 50 per cent of the vote to be elected. Failure to achieve that on the first round of voting triggered a second, run-off round between the two candidates with the most votes. But now there will be no second rounds - the party with a simple majority of votes wins, and the head of it list is proclaimed mayor.
It is easy to see serious complications arising from this. A party could win with 40 per cent or less of the votes, and its opponents could outnumber it in the municipal assembly. This might make it impossible for the new mayor to push his plan and budget for the municipality through the Assembly.
"Votar Mocambique", a coalition of various civil society groups, issued a warning on Tuesday that violent incidents which occurred during the election campaign "should concern the candidates, the electoral bodies, the police and society at large because they constitute a threat to the integrity of the elections".
The coalition was particularly concerned at the use of firearms by police in the Tete and Gurue municipalities. However, it also congratulated the police for its behaviour in municipalities such as Nampula, Beira, Quelimane and Mocimboa da Praia "where police interventions were reported that made it possible to avoid the occurrence of serious electoral incidents".
The "Votar Mocambique" statement urged respect "for the right of all voters registered in the 53 municipalities to vote in a safe, tolerant and impartial environment".
It urged the political parties and all others involved to display "tolerance, peaceful co-existence and a civic attitude , recalling that elections are a fundamental stage for the consolidation of a democratic state".