Mozambique: Battle to Control Voting

Electoral management bodies in Mozambique have fallen into disrepute and increasingly, after voting, people want to remain in the vicinity of polling stations to "control or oversee the vote", most notably in opposition zones. This is openly supported by Renamo and MDM, the two largest opposition parties.

The electoral law allows independent observers, party delegates, and party-nominated polling station staff within the polling stations. They should provide adequate monitoring and control over misconduct during the counting of ballots, which occurs in the polling station. But in this election, provincial election commissions have refused to allow observation by more than 3000 independent civil society observers, and there are complaints from opposition parties that some of their delegates (poll watchers) and nominated polling station staff are also being excluded. Renamo this afternoon issued a statement in Zambezia that party delegates have been refused credentials in six districts and in Mulevala credentials were taken back under the pretext of correcting an error, but not returned. This violates the law and the balance has shifted so there is no independent monitoring of the counting of votes in many key places.

The law does say every voter must leave after they vote, and cannot remain within 300 meters of the polling station. "Opposition parties are in consensus on this basic principle that people should vote and remain because the law does not prevent people from staying beyond 300 meters from the polling stations," said Venâncio Mondlane, Renamo national representative, after signing an agreement between six parties to stop fraud.

The president of the National Election Commission (CNE), Sheik Abdul Carimo, in his usual exhortation, urged all voters to leave after voting. But he did not exhort provincial elections commissions to obey the law and issue observer credentials.

Police spokesperson Orlando Mudumbane at a press conference this morning said that "voters who have voted at the polling stations are prohibited from staying, and the police will intervene whenever necessary, using all legally established forms to prevent wrongdoing by anyone who might discredit the voting process."

The CNE president signed a notification on Friday (11 October) addressed to the Renamo Secretary General, informing the largest opposition party that "voters are not allowed to stay at the polling stations." Carimo specifically mentions Manuel de Araujo, Renamo candidate for governor of Zambezia. "The CNE has learned that the candidate and head of the list for the province of Zambezia, citizen Manuel Antonio Alculete Lopes de Araujo, recommends to voters and supporters of his candidacy and his party to stay near polling centres," says the notification.

Both the opposition and the CNE and the police are right. No one shall remain within 300 meters of polling centres except duly accredited persons. But outside this perimeter, there is no legal prohibition. And the opposition is calling on people to stay outside the 300 meter perimeter.

The fear is that the police will use force to disperse people who are outside the 300 meters. In previous elections this generated riots, and police resorting to the use of tear gas to disperse people. In some cases, the police used the pretext of scattering people around polling stations to break into polling stations, take ballot boxes with ballot papers and disappear. In last year's municipal elections this happened at some polling stations in Quelimane, Lichinga, and Marromneu.

In some countries like Ghana people are legally allowed to sit near polling stations and watch the count. In Mozambique, in the revision of the Electoral Law this proposal was put but rejected by parliament.

But without independent observers and party agents inside, who watches the count?

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