Southern Africa: Mozambique On Edge As Frelimo Scores a Big Win

Mozambique ruling party Frelimo supporters (file photo).
analysis

It was predicted that Mozambique's main opposition party would score well in at least some of the provinces it took in the last elections five years ago. And if this didn't happen, the opposition would probably reject the results and raise issues of fraud, independent observers told ISS Today on the eve of the 15 October polls.

Not only was Mozambique's democracy put to the test, but also the peace deal between the government and the former rebel movement - the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) - signed in August.

However preliminary results show that the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) - the only party in power since independence - has won with an absolute majority in the presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections in all provinces.

With two-thirds of the vote counted in the presidential elections, the incumbent president Filipe Nyusi is set to win with just over 70% against his Renamo opponent Ossufo Momade, who is expected to get only 25%.

Preliminary results show that the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front has won with an absolute majority

At parliamentary and provincial level the results look similar, in contrast with the 2014 polls and the mere 51% of total votes gained by Frelimo in municipal elections last year; which is where the problem lies. The opposition says Frelimo's high score in several places can be attributed to manipulation of some of the results at local level - before, during and after people voted.

At this stage it will be difficult for Renamo to get a rerun. And most people believe the former liberation movement Frelimo probably would have won anyway. But the opposition's failure to grab any of the provinces that would have enabled it to govern them for the first time puts the entire decentralisation project in jeopardy.

This has been Renamo's main gripe since it got the most votes in Zambezia, Tete and Sofala provinces, and came close to Frelimo in Nampula, in 2014. It believed it should get the chance to rule at local level where it is in the majority, and yet governors were appointed centrally from the Frelimo-run government - thanks to new laws passed earlier this year.

However even before voting started there were doubts about the fairness of the outcome. Already in the run-up to last Tuesday's poll, the 300 000 extra voters registered in Gaza province, a Frelimo stronghold, cast a shadow over the credibility of the vote. Some international observers said there were hardly any voters at some of the polling stations in Gaza, but according to preliminary results, the turnout was 55% and Nyusi won with 90% of the votes.

On Monday 21 October, Renamo's political committee met and predictably rejected the results, calling on all Mozambicans to refuse the outcome. It did the same in 2014. In fact it has become a trend across Africa for opposition parties to reject results even before they are announced.

The 300 000 extra voters registered in Gaza province cast a shadow over the credibility of the vote

Yet Renamo might genuinely have a good case. In its statement it noted the discrepancies during the voter registration process, the violence during the election campaign and the barring of its observers on election day. This echoed a statement by Renamo on Saturday that also rejected the results and said the politicisation of security forces during the elections contravened the August peace deal.

Election observation has become a contested terrain in tense African elections such as these. On the eve of the polls, bodies such as the Centre for Public Integrity complained about its 3 000 trained election observers being barred from doing their job because the electoral commission hadn't issued their accreditation. But thousands of 'pro-Frelimo' observers were granted that privilege.

Predictably the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community judged the election 'generally calm and well administered'. Yet the AU noted a 'challenging political and security environment' given the emerging insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province and the ongoing peace process between the government and Renamo. It noted 'discrepancies' in the counting process. In its statement it also urged the government to 'enforce laws that limit the misuse of state resources during campaigns, especially by incumbent candidates'.

The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), which fielded a group of international observers headed by former Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama, noted that the elections occurred in a context of 'deep security concerns' as well as 'a lack of trust in the government, the police and the national electoral commission' to ensure free and fair polls.

Mass protests against election rigging in the streets of Maputo or Beira won't be good for the country's image

Although the polls were conducted in a satisfactory manner, key issues such as insecurity, the problems during voter registration and the selective accreditation of citizen observers 'posed challenges to the integrity of the polls', EISA said.

First prize for Mozambique would be a peaceful process through which the opposition's grievances are resolved. In August, however, the Independent Electoral Commission rejected a proposal to audit the voters roll to remove doubts about the Gaza voters. This could have gone a long way in solving the issue.

Mozambique could be on the verge of a huge economic boom thanks to liquid natural gas production in the north of the country. Although it might do little to resolve the poverty of millions of Mozambicans, it could mean a lot to whoever is in power.

But for that to happen, one needs a minimum of political stability. Mass protests against election rigging in the streets of Maputo or Beira won't be good for the country's image. Already the insurgency in the north, which has killed up to 400 people since November 2017, is a huge problem for the government. It certainly isn't good for investment.

Mozambique is experiencing a tense political period and the actions of the main political parties in the coming days will be key to ensuring a stable future.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, Senior Researcher, ISS Pretoria

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