Mozambique: Constitutional Council Rejects Renamo Appeal

Maputo — The Constitutional Council, Mozambique's highest body in matters of constitutional and electoral law, has rejected an appeal by the main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, against the results of the voter registration in the southern province of Gaza.

Renamo pointed out the gross inconsistencies between the figures for Gaza's population in the 2017 Census, and the number of registered voters in Gaza. According to the figures announced by the National Elections Commission (CNE), Renamo said, "80 per cent of the population of Gaza is 18 years or more old".

If the CNE estimate of the Gaza electorate was correct, that would mean that the census had omitted about 400,000 adult Gaza residents, which Renamo described as "an extraordinarily high margin of error".

Renamo accused the CNE of gerrymandering - that is, of manipulating the registration so as to allocate more parliamentary seats to Gaza, which is known to be a stronghold of the ruling Frelimo Party. The 250 seats in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, are allocated to the provincial constituencies in proportion to their registered electorate.

At the last general elections, in 2014, Gaza had 14 seats. This year, the CNE has given Gaza 22 seats - eight more than in 2014. No other province has seen such a wild swing in its registered electorate and its number of seats.

Renamo certainly has mathematics on its side - but the Constitutional Council rejected the appeal on procedural grounds. Renamo had simply left it too late to appeal against the registration.

Renamo had made no complaint about the Gaza registration at any of the province's registration posts during the voter registration period (15 April to 30 May). It had not protested at any of the district offices of the CNE's executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), or at the Gaza provincial branch of STAE.

The Council pointed out that Renamo could have challenged the registration figures when they were approved by the Gaza Provincial Election Commission on 13 June. But it did not do so - and the Council described this as "unforgivable inaction", the legal consequence of which was that Renamo could not appeal against subsequent decisions concerning the registration.

Renamo waited until the CNE approved the registration results for the entire country, on 23 June, before lodging its appeal. By then it was far too late. The Council argued that electoral procedures are cumulative, each stage building on the previous one. Opportunities to call for the registration to be annulled had been exhausted at the previous stages, up to and including the 13 June announcement by the Provincial Elections Commission.

The Council based its rejection of the appeal solely on Renamo's long delay in registering any protest. It did not look at the substantive issue - which is the impossible nature of the Gaza registration figures.

The definitive figures from the 2017 Census, released in late April this year, show a total population of Gaza of 1,422,460. Adjusted by the average population growth rate of 2.8 per cent a year, in 2019 there can, at most, be 1.5 million people in Gaza.

Throughout the country, the majority of the population is under the voting age of 18. The median age of the population is 16.6 years. So the total number of people in Gaza aged 18 and above is less than 750,000.

Yet STAE set a target for voter registration in Gaza of 1.14 million, and the final number of voters supposedly registered in the province was 1,166,011. That figure is over 400,000 more than the total number of people of voting age in Gaza.

When AIM, on 24 June, asked CNE spokesperson Paulo Cuinica about the contradiction between the CNE figure and that of the census, Cuinica told AIM that the CNE had also based its work on data from the INE - but since the definitive data from the 2017 census only became available in late April, by which time the voter registration was under way, the CNE had to rely on projections.

But AIM also has the INE projections from the previous census, held in 2007. The Gaza population aged 18 and above (that is, the potential electorate) in 2019 was projected to be 726,531.

In other words, the projection from the 2007 census and the definitive results from the 2017 census are consistent. There is no room in these figures for hundreds of thousands of extra voters.

But because of the sheer carelessness of Renamo, the elections will now be held with a grossly inflated electorate for Gaza, and the subsequent inflation of the number of seats for that province.

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