MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) — Calls for calm and warnings against voter intimidation marked a closely watched election day in Mozambique on Tuesday that is crucial in consolidating a wary peace in the southern African nation of nearly 30 million people.
Zimbabwe’s embattled main opposition party MDC Deputy Spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka has alleged that some Zimbabweans secretly voted in the Mozambique elections held on Tuesday.
Said Tomborinyoka, “We have it on good authority that the government has assisted Zimbabweans in ward 11 of Mutasa Central as well as those in the Hauna and Chivhanga areas to register and vote for FRELIMO in the Mozambique election.”
Tamborinyoka could not explain more where he got the information from.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 6PM with the law allowing 15 days for results to be announced.
Analysts have said even if current President Philipe Nyusi wins, as expected, Renamo wants to win local elections in its traditional strongholds, giving it control over provinces for the first time since the civil war ended in a truce in 1992. Renamo fought Frelimo for 16 years from 1977 to 1992 in a Cold War conflict that killed about one million people. It ended in a truce but sporadic violence has flared in the years since including after Renamo challenged election results in 2014.
Under the peace deal signed in August this year, provincial governors will now be picked by the main party in each province, rather than the government in Maputo an opportunity for Renamo to gain long-thwarted representation.
Parties’ acceptance of the presidential, parliamentary and provincial vote results is a key test of the ceasefire signed in August between the government and opposition Renamo rebels after years of skirmishes following a 15-year civil war that killed an estimated 1 million people.
The ruling Frelimo party, which has governed since Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975, is expected to be returned to power. President Filipe Nyusi is expected to win a second term in a vote where insecurity and political tensions might keep some people from the polls.
Nyusi after voting urged Mozambicans to avoid violence and maintain “total serenity, total calm” — a week after police acknowledged that several suspects in the murder of prominent local election observer Anastacio Matavel were police officers, leading to condemnation from some international vote observer groups.
Local feelings on Nyusi are mixed. The president can claim credit for the $25 billion Mozambique Liquid Natural Gas project, part of efforts to tap substantial deposits of natural gas, but his first term has been overshadowed by an economic crisis caused by a $2 billion corruption scandal in which companies set up by the secret services and defense ministry secretly borrowed money to set up projects that never materialized.
The opposition Renamo’s candidate and new leader Ossufo Momade is expected to benefit from the party’s popularity in the countryside.
A beaming Momade held up the inked proof of his vote and called on supporters to participate “massively” in the election. In comments carried by national broadcaster TVM, he called on “my brother” Nyusi and security forces to respect the popular vote, and he cited the recently signed peace deal.
Momade also held up what appeared to be tampered-with ballots, saying, “It can’t continue like this … We want democracy. We want peace.” He said his party would not accept any vote manipulation.
The local Center for Public Integrity noted a few incidents of pre-marked ballots or late-opening voting centers, but the center and a collection of non-governmental organizations said that in general polls opened normally across the country.
Some voters showed up at dawn at wait. “I got here early, I voted early,” said Nalia Joaquim Lourenco, a teacher in Gaza province.
“We are already on the right track, but we need a little more,” said another voter, Ofelia Rambique, in the capital, Maputo. “We hope that with these elections the government will try to do more things to achieve peace and achieve the change that everyone expects.”
Also seeking the presidency is opposition MDM candidate Daviz Simango, the mayor of Beira city, which suffered badly in the devastating Cyclone Idai earlier this year.
The country on the Indian Ocean was hit by Idai and, weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth, raising fears about what climate change would bring to the sprawling coastline in the decades to come. Hundreds of thousands of people are still recovering from the storms and hunger is a growing concern as months remain before the next substantial harvest.
Insecurity also poses a growing threat. At least 10 polling centers were not opening in northernmost Cabo Delgado province as Mozambique’s election authority said it could not guarantee safety from attacks by shadowy Islamic extremists, who have killed more than 400 people in the past two years. That means some 5,400 people are not able to vote.
Some 13 million Mozambicans are registered to vote. Vote counting starts after polls close at 6 p.m. local time and preliminary results are expected Wednesday, with full provisional results before the end of the week.
A runoff will be held if no presidential candidate wins a majority of the vote.
For the first time Mozambicans are also electing provincial governors, a key concession to Renamo. Previously all governors were appointed by the ruling party.
In 10 of the country’s 11 provinces, the governor will be the lead candidate of the party or list which wins the most votes in the provincial assembly election. Maputo, the 11th province and the capital, is both a city and a province and it was decided not to add a governor to the elected mayor.
However, Frelimo has established a new management layer, a provincial secretary of state, which will be appointed by the president and take on many of the powers that governors have had up to now.
Additional reporting by AP