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Volume 12 Number 1
New Delhi, Spring 2005

Mozambicans Go To The Polls In Small Numbers

- Neil Falzon
Lawyer and Human Rights Activist

Accepting the results (of the elections) would be killing democracy” – Afonso Dhlakama, Renamo leader and presidential candidate.

Showered by heavy rainfalls and beaten by a scorching sun, 8 million Mozambicans had the opportunity in December 2004 to exercise their right to vote in the country’s third multi-party elections, choosing Armando Guebuza as their new President and confirming the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) as the ruling party in Parliament. Frelimo Secretary-General Mr. Guebuza succeeds President Joaquim Alberto Chissano who, after 18 years of rule, decided not to contest the elections.

With a meagre 36% turnout of voters, these elections nonetheless signify a sweeping victory of Frelimo over its historic rival, the rebel group turned political movement Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo), with which it fought a bloody civil war for 16 years. With 64% of votes in his favour, Mr. Guebuza takes Frelimo, in power since 1975, into another 5 years of rule and widens the gap between Frelimo and Renamo. Renamo’s leader Afonso Dhlakama managed to obtain 32% of votes, whilst obtaining 34% and 48% in the elections of 1994 and 1999 respectively.

Mozambicans go to polls

Coupling this victory is the huge parliamentary majority obtained by Frelimo, winning 160 seats from 250.

The two major political contenders, Frelimo and Renamo, have been enemies since the country’s independence in 1974, with both parties sharing high levels of unpopularity amongst the electorate. Following independence, Frelimo established a one-party state based on socialist principles and created intensive, Russian-style re-education camps. In opposition and with the support of the Rhodesian government, the rebel group Renamo was created in 1977, starting the civil war which would ravage the entire country until 1992 when, under a UN-sponsored settlement, peace was finally established in Mozambique.

“We have succeeded in consolidating the peace process,” said President Chissano, of the December elections. The elections reflect the country’s present political situation, with the two parties peacefully vying for power, albeit not without tension and controversy. In fact, not many would agreewith President Chissano’s comment, since the elections were tarnished with allegations of abuse and fraud, with Guebuza accused of “plotting against democracy”. Just a week after the elections, even before the announcement of the official results, Dhlakama called for fresh voting, claiming “massive fraud”, including manipulation of electoral computers and prevention of opposition supporters from voting.

Afonso Dhlakama, Leader of opposition, Renamo

He also called on outgoing President Chissano to remain in office until new elections were held. This call has recently been modified as Renamo awaits a ruling on the alleged irregularities from Mozambique’s Constitutional Council. Eduardo Namburete, manager of Renamo’s electoral campaign, is reported to have said that the party will only call for re-elections in those areas where there have been reports of irregularities.

An insight of such allegations and of the entire electoral process may be provided by the reports and statements of the over 200 foreign electoral observers present in Mozambique. Amongst these observers were the Commonwealth, the Carter Center and the European Union, all of which have published their observations on the electoral process.

The Commonwealth Secretariat sent 2 delegations to the Mozambique elections. An Observer Group, present for the end of the campaign period, the voting and the counting of votes at the polling stations, had the mandate of ascertaining whether the December elections provided the electorate with the conditions necessary for free expression of their will and whether the final results do in fact reflect this will.

The Group was also requested to evaluate elements affecting the credibility of the general electoral process. Together with this group, the Secretariat sent an Expert Team, present to observe the remainder of the result process. The Team’s mandate was more specific since it was requested to establish whether counting was conducted in a manner conforming to the Mozambique’s electoral legislation.

One of the main issues of concern to the to the Commonwealth observers was certainly the levels of provincial and national access granted to them by the National Electoral Commission (CNE), particularly at the crucial stages of the results process where invalid ballot papers and challenged votes were being reclassified.

The observers were also prohibited from the sessions where the CNE reconsidered the rejected Results Summary Sheets. Although the CNE confirmed that it would publish the list of all rejected Sheets together with the reasons for rejection, this is yet to be done. Criticism is also directed at various Renamo representatives who stalled the electoral process at various stages by, for example, boycotting CNE meetings, rendering consensus decisions impossible and refusing to grant access to Electoral Materials Warehouses in a number of provinces. Problems with the accuracy, integrity and security of the software utilised for the tabulation proofs were also reported.

The observers did, however, note with satisfaction the presence of several conditions which indicated an increased level of democratic spirit. Civic and voter education was seen as being effective and pluralistic, polling staff seemed to be adequately educated about their roles and duties at the stations and observers were largely granted access to all the electoral preparatory stages.

The Commonwealth observers concluded that conditions for free democratic elections did in fact exist and praised the good spirit with which they the good spirit with which they were received and allowed to conduct their work. In their conclusions and recommendations, they highlight, inter alia, the needs:

  1. to grant wider observer access;
  2. to depoliticise the decision-making process by reducing CNE discretion;
  3. to improve the use of IT by appointing suitable technical staff; and
  4. to review electoral logistical arrangements such as voting over two days and locations of polling stations.

Generally, they recommend that the Mozambican Government liaises with the Commonwealth Secretary General to find methods of improving its electoral management arrangements and to ascertain and process the reasons for the record low turn-out.

In its post election statement, whilst praising the peaceful environment surrounding the general process, the Carter Center expresses its concern at a number of issues which, whilst not necessarily affecting the outcome of the elections, weaken their integrity and credibility. With regards to the provincial tabulation, the Center notes that no province met the legal deadline of 9 December for the presentation of results, owing to delayed delivery of district materials and, echoing Dhlakama’s claims, faults in the tabulation software.

Furthermore, a number of districts reported voter turnouts described as “unrealistically high”, reaching 90% to 100%. In the light of the overall poor turnout, with a meagre 36% of the electorate actually voting, such figures stand out as dubious.

In the same districts as the Center reports high Frelimo support as well a campaign period that was intimidating and restrictive for representatives of the opposing party. From a more structural perspective, the Center comments on the secretive attitude adopted by the CNE in respect of the list of polling stations and the lack of transparency in the central reclassification of dubious votes by the CNE, particularly with regards to the cancellation of ballot sheets that could have supported the opposition.

Similarly, the European Union’s Election Observation Mission (EOM) to Mozambique, comments on the CNE’s working methods and structure. No observers were admitted to the reassessment by the CNE of invalid and contested votes, with access to the re-qualification of invalid votes granted at pre-established time slots.

The EOM repeated the Carter Center’s concerns regarding the unusually high turnout in specific districts, emphasising the fact that the votes cast in these areas were predominantly in favour of Frelimo. Commenting on the revalidation sessions, the European Union observers noted “apparently deliberately invalidated ballots” in the districts commented upon by the Carter Center. Other problems mentioned include: the lack of information given regarding the electronic tabulation process, the fact that no updated voter list was presented for public scrutiny, the incoherence between the number of polling stations and the number of result sheets, an extremely low turnout with 5-12 voters at some stations, the lack of accuracy regarding the precise number of eligible voters and the fact that some polling stations either opened late on the second day or did not open at all thereby preventing over 20,000 voters from exercising their rights.

Under Mozambique electoral law, all citizens above 18 years of age may vote. The winning presidential candidate needs to obtain a majority of votes cast with, each candidate being proposed by at least 5,000 voters with at least 200 from each of the country’s provinces. Mozambique’s National Assembly consists of 250 seats representating the country’s 11 electoral constituencies, which include Mozambique’s 10 provinces together with Maputo City. Voting is by proportional representation whereby voters select the preferred political block or list of candidates as presented by each contesting party or coalition.

To obtain representation in the National Assembly, a party or coalition needs to obtain a minimum of 5% of the vote, following which the parliamentary seats are distributed to successful parties or coalitions in proportion to the number of votes obtained. The CNE is entrusted with ensuring fairness and freedom throughout the registration and electoral process. The CNE is also responsible for announcing the final results.

“Only united can we overcome poverty and all the other difficulties our country is facing today,” said Armando Guebuza, the presidential elections winner.

Set on fighting corruption and poverty, Mr. Guebuza has an arduous 5 years coming his way, a challenge clearly reflected in the electoral process giving him victory.


CHRI Newsletter, Spring 2005

Editors: Vaishali Mishra & Clare Doube, CHRI;
Print: Anshu Tejpal, Electronic:
Jyoti Bhargava, CHRI; Web Developer: Swayam Mohanty, CHRI.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors

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The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent international NGO mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth.