Mozambique's main opposition party, Renamo, has insisted that elections for district assemblies must go ahead in 2024, even though there is no clarity on what these assemblies will do or how they will be paid for.
On 28 May, at the closing session of a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Frelimo Party, President Filipe Nyusi suggested postponing the district elections. He called for "a reflection on the feasibility and sustainability of the country advancing to the election of district assemblies in 2024".
The election of district assemblies was a demand raised by Renamo in the negotiations over a package of decentralisation measures that were included in constitutional amendments passed in 2018.
There are currently 154 districts (more if urban districts are included).
This Renamo demand will certainly complicate national elections. Voters will already be faced with three ballot papers in 2024, for the presidential, parliamentary, and provincial assembly elections.
Adding a fourth, for the district assemblies, would inevitably lengthen the time taken to count the votes and declare the results. Even discounting the possibility of deliberate fraud, tired polling station staff are likely to make more mistakes if the count is extended deeper into the night.
Just as with the municipalities and the provinces, the district assembly elections will be organised on a party list basis. The head of the list of whichever party wins will become the new district administrator. The administrator heads a district government, known as the District Executive Council, which answers to the District Assembly.
The Constitution says nothing else. The powers of the District Administrator and of the District Executive Council are to be fixed by laws which do not yet exist. Even the sizes of the district assemblies are not yet known.
However, it seems certain that they will provide hundreds, if not thousands of new jobs, with wages and allowances adding to the pressures on the state budget.
There is also no clarity about where the powers of the provincial assemblies end and those of the district assemblies begin. Indeed, if the district assemblies are granted any real powers, then the provincial assemblies will become superfluous.
President Nyusi told the Central Committee that decentralisation "is not a linear or finished process", and so there should be "a functional analysis" to maximise the opportunities of the current scheme and "to reduce the potential overlapping of the attributes and powers of the bodies of provincial governance and those that represent the State in the province".
"This is a reflection which should be made, with a cool head, and with our feet on the ground, so that the decision most appropriate for our country is taken", said President Nyusi.
Renamo was outraged by this approach and claimed that President Nyusi is trampling on the Constitution. It became even angrier when Albano Macie, a judge on the Constitutional Council, recently pointed out that the district assemblies are only in the Constitution because of Renamo pressure. Agreeing to district assemblies was part of the price paid to persuade Renamo to lay down its guns and dissolve its illegal militia. Macie could see no use for district assemblies.
At a press conference in Maputo on 8 June, the chairperson of the Renamo National Jurisdictional Council, Saimone Macuiana, expressed outrage at the positions taken by President Nyusi and Macie. He claimed that the government is "retreating" from its commitment to decentralisation and is showing a "lack of honesty and seriousness".
As for Macie, Macuiana thought it "unacceptable" for members of the Constitutional Council, which is effectively the highest court in the land, to make political statements.
Macuiana did point to one real problem - the Constitution cannot be amended less than five years after the last amendment, which was in 2018. That provision can only be overridden by a super-majority of three quarters of the parliamentary deputies - in other words, the commitment to district elections in 2024 can only be removed from the constitution by the vote of 188 deputies. Although the ruling Frelimo Party has an absolute majority, it is not that large.
So Macuiana called for "rigorous compliance" with "the letter and the spirit" of the peace agreements between the government and Renamo. He stated that Renamo had signed those agreements "in defence of the higher interests of the Mozambican people".