Mozambique votes for mayors

2008-11-19 20:33

Maputo - Mozambique on Wednesday held local government elections in a poll seen as a critical test of strength for the ruling Frelimo party ahead of next year's presidential vote.

"The turnout has been amazingly high in most places. Frelimo looks set to win the majority of the 43 municipalities," said Joseph Hanlon, editor of the Maputo-based Political Process Bulletin.

"The turnout could be used to measure the voter confidence before the big elections next year," said Hanlon.

About 10 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots in the former Portuguese colony on southern Africa's east coast. Results from the election and the official turnout were not expected until later in the week.

Voters were choosing mayors and local councillors, with 1 000 international observers on hand and a strong police presence.

Most smaller parties withdrew from the polls due to lack of sufficient support, leaving the Liberation Front of Mozambique, better known as Frelimo, and the opposition Renamo as the main contenders.

"As more elections are held, the awareness of voters grows, so the turnout increases with each elections," said Leopoldo Da Costa, chairperson of the Mozambican Electoral Commision.

Mozambique is still recovering from a brutal 17-year civil war that ended in 1992, when Renamo waged an armed battle against the Frelimo government in a conflict that left at least one million dead and displaced millions of others.

Support for the parties remains split along geographic lines, with Renamo most popular in the northern part of the country that was once home to its rebel movement.

Frelimo has already named President Armando Emilio Guebuza as its candidate in the national polls next year.