Mozambique began voting in a general election on Tuesday that some fear could test the country’s fragile peace. Moreso, because it comes after a heated campaign marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.
The Frelimo party, which has ruled the impoverished southern African nation since independence from Portugal in 1975, is widely expected to again beat its former civil war foe Renamo, a rebel group turned main opposition party.
President Filipe Nyusi cast his ballot at a school in the capital Maputo as polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT). He also took the opportunity to call on voters to show “the world we stand for democracy and tolerance”.
“Mozambique has chosen to move forward peacefully,” the Frelimo leader said, He added that more than 4,000 observers had been deployed in the most-watched election in the country’s history.
Walter Carlitos Zucula, a 20-year-old student at a Maputo polling booth, said he would vote to re-elect Nyusi.
“The development of our country is in our hands,” he said, adding that he wanted more jobs for young people.
Around 13 million of Mozambique’s 30 million citizens are registered to vote in elections for the presidency, parliament and provincial governors.
Ballotting takes place at more than 20,000 polling stations. Balloting closes at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT). Preliminary results are expected to be announced on Thursday.
– ‘Test for democracy’ –
After 44 years at the helm, Frelimo will likely see its stranglehold on power loosen. This would be due to a deal with Renamo to allow voters to vote for provincial governors. These ones had previously been nominated by the government.
Renamo is predicted to take control of three to five of Mozambique’s 10 provinces, according to analysts.
“This election will be a test for democracy,” said Ericino de Salema of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.
Renamo’s candidate Ossufo Momade, 58, called on Nyusi to respect the will of people.
“If these results are manipulated we will never accept them. We do not want a return to the problems of the past,” Momade told the media after casting his vote.
Old foes & undying skeptics on edge
Momade heads a party of former anti-communist rebels who fought a brutal civil war with Frelimo from 1975-1992. The struggle devastated the economy and left almost one million people dead.
Renamo picked up arms again from 2013 to 2016, but tensions continued until Nyusi and Momade sealed a peace deal in August.
But an armed breakaway faction of Renamo has rejected Momade’s candidacy and threatened to attack campaign events. This has raised fears the triple polls could be marred by bloodshed.
The six-week campaign was one of the most violent in the country’s turbulent history. Candidates were threatened, election material destroyed, and deadly clashes breaking out between supporters.
The situation escalated last week when a prominent election observer was shot dead at the wheel of his car. This occurred in the southeastern Gaza province by members of a special police unit.
The opposition has already accused Frelimo of tampering with the vote. Civil society groups have also estimated there are hundreds of thousands of “ghost voters” . These are names on the electoral roll not aligned with real, potential voters.
Lutero Simango, an MP of the country’s third biggest party MDM, accused Frelimo of “using all state means, including police and secret services, to intimidate people”.
– Scandals and setbacks –
Frelimo suffered its worst result at the ballot box — 51.8 percent — in local elections last year. He has since been severely weakened in recent years.
In 2016, it was revealed the government secretly borrowed $2 billion. This rolled in the worst financial crisis in the country’s history and uncovering a vast corruption network with links to the regime.
The government is also battling to recover from two devastating cyclones in March. The cyclones displaced nearly two million people.
And a shadowy jihadist insurgency that has killed hundreds in the northernmost Cabo Delgado province has delayed development of one of the government’s biggest selling points — the discovery of vast gas reserves that is hoped to put billions in state coffers and lift millions out of poverty.
The instability has already forced the National Election Commission to close 10 polling stations.