Maputo — Mozambique's main opposition party, Renamo, has asked the court in the northern port city of Nacala to annul the results of last Tuesday's general and provincial elections in Nacala because of a series of irregularities and discrepancies.
According to the coalition of election observer groups known as the "Sala da Paz" ("Peace Room"), Renamo complains that some of the polling station results sheets ("editais") were completed incorrectly, and some parts were not filled in at all. Some results sheets were lacking signatures and official stamps.
Renamo noted discrepancies in results written as numbers and as words - but this sort of discrepancy is more likely to be the result of polling station staff making mistakes as they fill out the sheets late at night, than the result of deliberate fraud.
In several stations Renamo found that the numbers on the results sheet did not add up - that is the number of people who did not vote (abstentions), plus the number of votes in the ballot box did not equal the number of voters registered at the station. The discrepancies are small, and could easily be the result of mistakes by tired staff.
Much more serious is the huge number of invalid votes that Renamo noted at some polling stations. Thus in one polling station, 504 votes were cast and 148 of them (over 29 per cent) were invalid. The chairperson of this polling station refused to accept a protest from a Renamo monitor.
At another station, with 497 voters, 131 votes were discarded as invalid in the presidential election, 279 in the parliamentary election and 125 in the provincial assembly election (respectively 26, 56 and 25 per cent).
At most polling stations, there are usually a handful of invalid votes, where voters genuinely try to vote for more than one party, or have written slogans or insults on the ballot paper. But these do not amount to more than two or three per cent of the vote.
Much larger numbers of invalid votes are an indication that dishonest polling station staff have deliberately invalidated votes by adding an ink mark, so that it looks as if the voter has tried to vote for two or more candidates.
In previous elections, the National Elections Commission (CNE) has denounced this practice, and some precautions were taken, such as ordering the removal of anything inky from the polling station table, and ordering staff with dirty hands to wash them.
But the practice is clearly continuing: the high percentages of invalid votes claimed by Renamo in some of the Nacala polling stations can only be reasonably be interpreted as the deliberate invalidation of votes.
Nacala was considered a Renamo stronghold, and the preliminary count of the results from the city showed a close race, with the ruling Frelimo Party defeating Renamo by only a couple of per cent.