Maputo — Most of Mozambique's 20,162 polling stations did indeed open on time, at 07.00, for the country' general and provincial elections, according to the preliminary report from one of the main independent observer groups, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP).
CIP official Borges Nhamirre, interviewed by the independent television station STV, noted that CIP observers report long queues, sometimes of 400 or so people, at polling stations in the northern province of Nampula.
There were early signs of a high turnout in both Nampula and the central province of Zambezia. But the queues were much shorter in the three southern provinces of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane, with some polling stations deserted, said Nhamirre - indicating that turnout may be low in the south.
But it would be rash to make firm predictions, since polls do not close until 18.00. Furthermore past experience shows that what looks like a high turnout can evaporate as the day advances. The apparently high turnout in Nampula and Zambezia can only be confirmed if long queues at the polling stations continue into the afternoon.
The coalition of election observer groups, known as the Sala da Paz (Peace Room), in its initial assessment, also confirmed that there had been "no great delays" in opening the polling stations.
But the Sala da Paz spokesperson, Bishop Carlos Matsinhe, noted that members of staff (MMVs) were absent from some polling stations, in some cases because their contracts had not been signed.
There should be seven MMVs at each polling station, four hired by the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) on the basis of public tendering, and one appointed by each of the political parties represented in parliament (the ruling Frelimo Party, the main opposition party Renamo, and the Mozambique Democratic Movement, MDM). All are paid allowances out of the election budget, but without a signed contract they will receive no money.
Matsinhe noted that observers face deliberate obstruction in parts of the country. He said that in Tete province - in Maravia and Chiuta districts, and in parts of Tete city - observers were not allowed to observe, supposedly because they had not gone to the STAE offices first, even though they had all received official observer credentials from the electoral bodies. In Cabo Delgado and Inhambane provinces some observers were not allowed to work, allegedly because their credentials did not satisfy the polling station staff.
Both CIP and Sala da Paz reported instances in which voters had been caught in possession of extra ballot papers, already marked. This fraud had been reported from parts of Zambezia, Tete and Nampula. It will be difficult to deny this attempted fraud, since photographs of the illicit ballot papers were taken and are circulating on the Internet.
The Electoral Transparency Platform set up by EISA (Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa) said that, of the 1,208 polling stations it had observed, only one per cent did not open at 07.00.
The reasons for the delay included lack of voting materials, and absence of members of polling station staff (MMVs). Each polling station should have seven members of staff, but are allowed to operate if only four are present. But in some cases even this minimum quorum had not been reached at 07.00.
Platform spokesperson Guilherme Mbilana said most stations that were late opening are in Maputo city - which he found ironic, since the capital has by far the best transport and logistics conditions of anywhere in Mozambique.
He protested that EISA observers had been prevented from doing their jobs in some stations in Zambezia, Manica, Gaza, Nampula, Inhambane and Maputo provinces, even though they had official accreditation.
This was in addition to the fact that, illegally, provincial elections commissions had denied accreditation to hundreds of EISA observers, even though they had applied in good time.