Mozambique Elections: A Test For Peace

Voting for the 2019 parliamentary, presidential and provincial elections in Mozambique commenced this week, amid concerns about the legitimacy of the electoral process and fears of potential instability.

In a climate of insecurity in the lead up to the election, observers fear that electoral misconduct will see the end to the tentative peace agreement between the ruling Frelimo party and ex-armed opposition group, Renamo, agreed only two months ago. With the preliminary results already released, it is looking like a clear win for current president Felipe Nyusi, as he holds 75% of votes tallied from polling stations so far. This will be the second term for Nyusi, and a continuation of the Frelimo party stronghold, who have governed the country since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

Concerns of voting irregularities have emerged both in the lead up to and throughout the election, sparking tensions between the major political rivals. Observers have criticised the electoral process for ballot stuffing, intimidation tactics and other irregularities. The EU Observers Mission reported that “an unlevel playing field was evident throughout the campaign,” claiming that the Frelimo party took advantage of “an unjustified use of state resources”. In contrast, African observers including the Southern African association SADC mission chief Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, have praised the country for their “successful, peaceful and orderly elections”.

Opposition and rights groups have also criticised the government  over the appearance of 300,000 additional ‘ghost voters’ in the Southern Gaza province. Anastacio Matavel, a key election observer in the Gaza province who called out the irregularities was murdered by five special operations forces in a car crash, according to onlookers who witnessed police fleeing the scene.  Human Rights Watch has also expressed concern over voter stations which have closed in the North Eastern province due to security concerns, and the thousands of displaced people in the region lacking, who will be denied the chance to vote.

Claims of electoral misconduct have the potential to undermine the fragile peace negotiations made in the prior months. Opposition leader Momade warned prior to the election, “If (the vote) is manipulated, we will never accept it”.

Whilst the process of disarmament of the rebel group has commenced, an estimated 5,800 soldiers are still yet to return their weapons. Attention will be focused on supposed Renamo strongholds, including Nampula, the second-largest city, where Momade is expected to become governor. This is the first year in which provincial governors have been elected by the public rather than by appointment by the ruling party. The provision was a key concession in the peace agreement signed by Momade and Frelimo, so failure to win in this region could act as a major setback to the country’s peace process.

Since the end of the 16-year civil war waged between the Frelimo government and Renamo rebel group, which claimed the lives of one million people, hostilities have been reignited sporadically. Violent clashes arose in 2013 and then again in 2015 over the 2014 election results. The August peace deal thus marked the end to a long peace negotiation settlement initiated by Renamo’s former leader. This election season has seen the rumblings of violence re-emerge, with an estimated 44 people killed throughout the entire campaign, according to local NGO, The Centre for Public Integrity.  This election result will determine whether Mozambique can continue on the path to peace or will be plunged back into a cycle of hostility.

Multiple challenges lie ahead for the nation and for the ruling party, not least to prove its legitimacy. Frelimo is still dealing with the repercussions of the corruption scandal which emerged in 2016 under the former administration and plunged the country into deeper economic strife. Two billion was revealed to be laundered by then finance minister Manual Chang who is awaiting trial in Johannesburg.  Whilst Frelimo was not directly implicated, his position as defence minister at the time raises suspicions about his involvement. The government is also recovering from the shock of Cyclone Idai in March, which displaced nearly 2 million people, and ongoing violent extremism by Islamic insurgency group in the Northern province which has killed more than 300 people.

If Frelimo, is serious about getting the country back on track and ending the political instability which is hampering both its growth and security, he must stay true to his words; “peace means that everything must be done according to the rules”. The final electoral results will provide an indication of whether he has managed to do so.