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Southern Africa Report Archive

David Pottie writes on the Mozambique electons in December 1999, in which Frelimo clearly won. He comments on Renamo's refusal to accept these results. (jbv)

vol 15 no 3

The Mozambique elections: RENAMO demands a recount
David Pottie

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Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 15 No 3, May 2000
Page 26



David Pottie is a senior researcher with the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa.

In December 1999, President Joaquim Chissano was officially re-elected President of Mozambique and the ruling Frelimo party returned to power with a majority in parliament. Chissano won 52.3 percent of the vote while his only presidential opponent, Afonso Dhlakama of the Renamo-Electoral Union coalition won 47.7 percent of the vote. Frelimo also won a majority of seats in parliament (133 seats) with 48.5 percent of the vote while the Renamo-Electoral Union won 117 seats with 38.8 percent. Two other party coalitions failed to reach the 5 percent threshold necessary to assure a seat in parliament. The smaller party votes totaled 12.8 percent of the popular vote which was slightly higher than in 1994.

Whereas the 1994 elections were widely hailed as a vote for peace, much of the focus on the 1999 elections was on electoral management. Unlike in 1994 when the elections were guided by the UN with widespread international attention, the 1999 elections were run by Mozambique with an international presence limited to only a handful of observer organizations. However, as in 1994, the distribution of votes in the 1999 elections repeated the pattern of electoral support with Frelimo retaining a majority of the seats in the southern half of the country as well as Cabo Delgado in the north. Renamo retained its stronghold in the central provinces. While the presidential election is based on the total national vote, representation in the national assembly is based on the results of 11 provincial elections. Thus, while parliament is elected on the basis of proportional representation, regional electoral strength plays a significant role in a party's electoral success. Nampula, Zambezia and Cabo Delgado have the most registered votes, thus they have the most national assembly seats assigned to them. On the basis of the distribution of votes in the 1999 elections, Mozambique is now a two-party electoral system with party support based on regional strongholds.

Despite relative success at the polls, Renamo clearly hoped to win both the presidential and parliamentary elections. The party rejected the official declaration of results when they were announced December 22, 1999, alleging widespread electoral fraud.


Distribution of National Assembly Seats

Province        Frelimo      Renamo -
                          Electoral Union

Niassa             6            7
Cabo Delgado      16            6
Nampula           24           26
Zambezia          15           34
Tete               8           10
Manica             5           10
Sofala             4           17
Imhambane         13            4
Gaza              16            0
Maputo Province   12            1
Maputo Cty        14            2

Total            133          117


Renamo challenges the results

Renamo alleged that the computerized compilation of results in the provincial centres was fraudulent and that hundreds of individual voting station registers were ignored in both the presidential and parliamentary races. The party took its allegations of election fraud to Mozambique's Supreme Court but lost the appeal to have the votes recounted when the Court issued a January 4, 2000 ruling that upheld the official results. The Supreme Court ruled that the computerized results could be properly reconciled against the registers, and that while there were errors in some registers, they were insufficient to alter the results significantly. The Court did re-qualify a number of ballots and redistributed these among the various parties.

While the crux of Renamo's allegations was the charge of fraudulent compilation of the 11 provincial results that form the basis of representation in parliament, Renamo also alleged that its members had been denied full access to the provincial computer centres responsible for the counting and transmission of results to Maputo. Both the Supreme Court and Frelimo have rejected Renamo's allegations. Following the Supreme Court decision, Renamo General Secretary Joao Alexandre said that Renamo would boycott parliament until a recount of the votes was ordered. Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama called the Supreme Court president Mario Mangaze a liar, and claimed that the court was a private institution of Chissano. Mangaze denied that any political pressure was brought to bear on the court and defended the ruling of the court by declaring: "It is not enough to state the existence of fraud or illegality. It is necessary, as the law determines, to present proof which leads unequivocally to the conclusion that the facts alleged correspond to the truth."

Moreover, some of the smaller political parties that shared an electoral platform with Renamo and accounted for 18 of its 117 seats made it clear that they would not join any parliamentary boycott. In mid-February Dhlakama criticized Maximo Dias, the leader of the Mozambican Nationalist Movement (MONAMO), one of the parties in the Renamo-Electoral Union, after Dias had publicly distanced himself from Dhlakama's claims that he was the legitimate president of Mozambique. Dhlakama accused Dias of insulting the voters of Zambezia, Dias' home province, on the basis that Dias was "a lackey of Frelimo" and therefore Dias "should correct himself."

In the end, Renamo reversed its boycott stance and all parliamentarians took their seats during the first sitting of the new parliament on January 14, 2000.

Electoral management

By contrast to this acrimony, in their preliminary statements all of the international observer missions present for the December elections considered the elections to have been free of any systematic problems. While there were minor problems encountered on voting day, it was clear that there was no systematic attempt to manipulate the voting process. One of the minor problems identified was inadequate distance between the polling booth and polling station officials, and party agents who were present, thereby threatening to compromise the secrecy of the ballot. In another instance some voters, particularly older voters, were confused about the actual voting process itself and received considerable instruction from station officials, party agents and domestic observers. However, it was also generally noted that voting station officials were well-trained, the polling stations opened on time and operated according to established procedures.

In this regard then, Mozambique's second general elections were relatively successful, though the staging of well-run elections is a separate issue from gaining acceptance of the official results by all parties. Mozambique is a case in point since the legitimacy of Mozambique's recent commitment to multiparty elections, like many of its neighbours in southern Africa, hinges on all parties recognizing the election results. One of the key mechanisms to achieving this acceptance of election results is to ensure that the body administering the elections operates in a transparent and accountable manner. After all, even the suspicion or allegation of wrongdoing, well founded or not, can be sufficient to derail an electoral process. Mozambique's 1999 elections must also be assessed against the background of the widely criticized local government elections in 1998. Renamo and other opposition parties boycotted those elections and voter turnout was only 15 percent. The opposition parties alleged that the National Elections Committee (CNE) and the Technical Secretariat for Election Administration (STAE), the two bodies responsible for elections in Mozambique, were partial to Frelimo.

For the 1999 elections a new electoral law was passed and an entirely re-constituted CNE was made responsible for charting the course of the national elections. The political parties represented in parliament were represented on the CNE and their representatives were also present on the technical staff of STAE. Opting for the overt politicization of the administrative process, in the name of achieving consensual decision-making, Mozambique hoped to gain confidence in the elections. One of the results of this approach has been a long and often agonizing process in which all administrative decisions were subjected to political bargaining. Nevertheless, Mozambique was able to mount a successful 60-day voter registration process, registering 85 percent of eligible voters. This registration process was also observed by domestic and international groups and was found to be relatively well-administered with very high rates of registration among female voters.

Renamo has always been prepared to play a game of duplicity in the elections. Regional party officials in Chimoio displayed a general suspicion of the electoral Process, claimed for instance that there were "rumours" of disappearing ink for the ballot papers, and that "their people" would be on the look out for a high number of blank votes during the counting process. Indeed, there were an exceptionally high number of blank votes (9.6 percent of legislative ballots, 6.5 percent of presidential ballots) but Renamo still came out ahead in the very provinces where its officials claimed they suspected the worst. The blank ballots indicate the need for improved voter education not the use of invisible ink!

Renamo's suspicions are even more difficult to accept given that their own party officials were integrated into the national and provincial electoral commission staff as well as the technical and administrative staff at district level (STAE). To be sure there were problems at the level of election management, and it was evident that some Frelimo officials made their Renamo counterparts feel less than welcome in administrative posts. But, Renamo also wanted it both ways: demanding representation through the politicization of election management on the one hand, and holding out by calling the legitimacy of the electoral process into question on the other.

The election campaign itself was largely peaceful, although there were incidents of intimidation alleged by the two main political parties. The three polling days were also peaceful and the elections were orderly and well-administered. There were technical problems with the counting process, as there were many exhausted polling station officials counting ballots by candlelight and repeated computer glitches in the provincial counting centres. In this case there is room for improvement. However, it appears that the overall election results are not in question. South Africa was among the first of foreign governments to recognize the December 22 announcement of the election results, with the US government and others congratulating Mozambicans on their successful elections. The European Union, present as international observers, reiterated their assessment that the elections were "broadly free and fair."

For the moment, Renamo has claimed that it will take its case for a re-count of the election results to parliament, although Frelimo maintains that the results are non-negotiable. At one level, the 1999 Mozambican elections demonstrate general compliance with due process and the use of formal channels for complaints. After all, Renamo was fully within its rights to submit its appeal to the Supreme Court. However, interim statements by Renamo officials that Frelimo had "stolen" the elections, that the party would make Mozambique "ungovernable," and that the Supreme Court lacked independence should serve notice that Mozambique's path to democracy continues to require careful navigation. Immediately following the voting, Renamo's chief lawyer, Manuel Frank, expressed overall confidence in the election process despite his party's allegations of a limited number of specific incidents over the course of the voting. Obviously Renamo's evaluation of the electoral process changed as the results were tabulated and they saw much the same regional patterns of voting being repeated.

Manuel Tome, secretary-general of Frelimo, argued that whereas Renamo campaigned on ethnic-regional identity, Frelimo still pursued the goal of national mobilization. Frelimo campaigned on its traditional social issues such as improving investment in health, food and education. But the rightward shift in Frelimo's economic policy was also evident in its support for increased foreign investment and the promotion of development corridors linking Mozambique to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Partially on this basis, Frelimo hopes to build on the estimated 10 percent growth rate posted for 1999, and the stabilization of the currency and inflation in recent years.

Post-election pitfalls

While Frelimo claims successful economic management for itself, the controversial aftermath of the 1999 elections is likely to continue to haunt the party. For example, before the elections, Frelimo officials maintained that there were no real campaign problems in Manica and Sofala provinces and they were confident of victory despite Renamo's traditional strength in the region. Frelimo's attempted inroads were evident in the town of Meringue. Since the 1994 elections Frelimo has constructed a health clinic, an administration building and over a dozen brick houses with electricity in the town. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Frelimo regional party headquarters were adjacent to the new administration building while Renamo's headquarters were abandoned and the thatched roof of their building had collapsed. But neither claims of peaceful party relations, nor the attempt to run Renamo out of its strongholds produced much of a windfall for Frelimo. In the end, Renamo captured twice as many seats (10) in Manica province than did Frelimo (5), and routed Frelimo in Sofala province by winning 17 out of 21 seats.

"Return to the bush"?

Moreover, Renamo now threatens to establish parallel administrations at the provincial level in the six provinces where it won a majority of the national seats. Dhlakama has said, "There will be fighting if government tries to hinder Renamo's governance in the north." Renamo has twice given Frelimo ten days to order a re-count, but each deadline has come and gone with no further action, other than that Renamo has announced the removal of its party headquarters from Maputo to Beira.

Renamo's threat to "return to the bush" is largely an empty threat. After all, its party officials and parliamentarians would hardly be looking to turn-in their salaries and privileges and return to extracting rents from rural folk, particularly in the immediate context of the devastation caused by heavy rains and widespread flooding that has destroyed much of Mozambique's transport, housing and agricultural infrastructure. But their tactics are also a partial indictment of the political power-sharing that has characterized electoral management in Mozambique. While intended to add legitimacy to the elections by including political representatives in the electoral administrative structure, Frelimo does continue to make use of its constitutional right as the governing party to appoint all provincial governors at the national level. This constitutional right - agreed upon by both Frelimo and Renamo ten years ago - imposes a major obstacle to continued reconciliation in Mozambique. After all, Frelimo is rightly suspicious that Renamo governors might be tempted to play the same game of working with Frelimo inside the government while threatening to undermine, as was often the case in the dynamics that emerged in the CNE. Frelimo is also obviously frustrated and refuses to bend to Renamo's demands in this regard, particularly because a hard fought constitutional settlement was lost immediately before the elections when Renamo refused to honour its commitments, calculating that it stood to win more power through the ballot box. Having failed in that goal, Renamo once again holds the country hostage, seeking the very political power it has won neither through constitutional amendments nor through elections.

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