Mozambicans go to the polls

2014-10-15 05:00

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Johannesburg - The capital's streets named after Vladimir Lenin and Kim Il Sung are lingering reminders of Mozambique's post-independence Marxism as the country, now one of Africa's fastest growing economies, prepares for its fifth democratic election on Wednesday.

The recent discovery of some of the world's largest gas and coal reserves in the southern African country has changed Mozambique's status from a war-torn country to one that is attracting international investment.

The winner of this year's election will control natural resources worth billions of dollars.

Frelimo, the guerilla movement front turned ruling party, has ruled the country since independence from Portugal in 1975 and Mozambicans are likely to re-elect Frelimo despite the fact that the presidential candidate, Defence Minister Filipe Nyusi, was virtually unknown until campaigning began earlier this year, according to experts.

Nyusi won a highly contested party election thanks to the backing of outgoing President Armando Guebuza and wealthy businessmen from the recently enriched north of the country, where Nyusi was born.

This election may be the first time since independence that Frelimo will really be challenged at the polls, according to analysts who believe that allegations of corruption have hurt the party's reputation.

"The image of Frelimo has been damaged in the last few years," says Fernando Lima, a veteran Mozambican journalist living in Maputo. "They have not been able to deliver on social sectors, especially education and health, and unemployment is very high."

More than two decades in power have made party leaders "arrogant," said Lima.

Frelimo's biggest challenge will once again come from former civil war foe, Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the national Resistance of Mozambique, known as Renamo. Earlier this year, Mozambique seemed to be slipping back into violence as clashes erupted in the north of the country, traditionally a Renamo stronghold.

Abandoning formal government, the official opposition leader returned to the bush where he refused to leave his refuge in the Gorongosa Mountains until a renewed peace accord was signed.

Daviz Simango

Only weeks before the election, Dhlakama emerged with a more positive and reconciliatory message, drawing massive crowds at rallies.

"But turning attendance at rallies, where many people are simply curious, into votes requires a political machine to get the vote out on the day," said Joseph Hanlon a leading researcher on Mozambique at the Open University in Britain.

"Frelimo has a superb political machine of the sort we recognize in Europe. Renamo has always had quite a weak political machine, because Dhlakama never built one."

As the memory fades of Mozambique's civil war, which lasted from 1977 to 1992, young Mozambicans may be attracted to a much newer party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement. Led by Daviz Simango, mayor of Mozambique's second largest city Beira, the party's policies focus on the youth in a country where the average age is 17, according to the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

Their calls for job creation and economic development have been difficult points to challenge by Nyusi and Dhlakama.

Whether the vote will be a smooth one is still unclear. Pockets of violence may destabilise the country if Renamo and MDM refuse to accept the outcome of Wednesday's vote, said journalist Lima.

"The elections will be very tight, no one can predict who will win," said Lima. "There is a possibility that this may go to [a] second round."

Read more on:    frelimo  |  renamo  |  afonso dhlakama  |  daviz simango  |  filipe nyusi  |  mozambique  |  mozambique elections 2014

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