SAR, Vol 11, No 1, November 1995
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HOLES IN THE STORY
BY PAUL FAUVET
Paul Fauvet is a Mozambique based journalist.
28 June 1995
In your May 1995 issue, your special correspondent in Maputo devoted two lengthy paragraphs to the Presidential Forum for the Opposition. I regret to tell you that there is no such thing.
Your correspondent seems to have confused two completely different forums. One is the long mooted "Extra-parliamentary Opposition Forum" which a dozen minor opposition parties set up at a meeting in May in the southern city of Inhambane.
The second is President Joaquim Chissano's "Presidential Consultative Forum." During last year's election campaign, Chissano promised to set up this body to advise him on matters of national importance. People invited to sit on it will come from political parties, churches, trade unions, employers' bodies, cultural and humanitarian associations, etc.
Thus the forum is not "for the opposition": Chissano made it clear he wanted this body to be broadly representative of Mozambican political and civil society. So far it has not moved from paper to reality, but it is improbable that Chissano is deliberately slowing things down. A more likely reason for the delay is that Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama announced that he would boycott the Forum and Chissano may be reluctant to go ahead without the participation of the principal opposition party.
As for your correspondent's remarks about Frelimo's "desperate attempt to maintain the system of open voting" in the Mozambican parliament, I was present in the press gallery during the entire debate and it didn't look remotely desperate.
Furthermore it was successful. Frelimo won the vote over open voting versus secret ballots, and so Renamo, in normal Renamo fashion, walked out of the chamber and boycotted the rest of the session. This didn't matter much because Frelimo can form a parliamentary quorum on its own, and in the second parliamentary session, in March, a humbled Renamo retook its seats.
The second session reached a compromise on voting procedures. The parliament will in future hold secret ballots for votes concerned with "individuals" (e.g., the election of the speaker, or a decision to remove parliamentary immunity from an MP charged with a criminal offence.) But the vast majority of parliamentary votes are over matters of policy and legislation, and these will be voted on by a show of hands. Renamo had wanted an automatic secret ballot whenever ten per cent of MPs called for one (i.e., whenever Renamo wanted): it was persuaded this was a non- starter and dropped the idea.
There is no sign that Frelimo is having the difficulty in maintaining cohesion among its MPs that your correspondent claims. Of course, there are disagreements inside the Frelimo parliamentary group and, of course, not everyone was in favour of the decision to propose former Attorney-General Eduardo Mulembue for the job of Speaker. But the majority backed Mulembue, and in a vote, no Frelimo MP was going to desert Mulembue given that the only alternative on offer was Renamo's Raul Domingos, a man who a few weeks earlier was threatening not to accept the results of the general election.
Your correspondent insults the integrity and intelligence of Mozambican MPs when he claims that Frelimo wanted open voting in order to "ensure voting discipline." The suggestion is that MPs only express their true feelings in a secret ballot, but will sheepishly follow the party line when a vote is taken by a show of hands.
But open voting is the norm in parliaments all over the world for the excellent reason that the electorate have a right to know how its representatives are casting their votes.
As Frelimo MP Sergio Vieira warned: "Secrecy tends to be the enemy of democracy."
Frelimo was elected on a detailed program of government that all Frelimo MPs pledged to defend. Without open voting, it will be impossible to know whether they are all honouring that pledge.
Of course, issues will arise that are not covered by the program. There will always be unforeseen situations where MPs have the make their minds up and some, in all conscience, may find it impossible to accept the decisions of the majority of Frelimo MPs. Fine. They can and will vote against. But their electorate has the right to see this and to hear an explanation.
As regards the local elections, your correspondent is quite wrong to say that the government has indicated they might be postponed (a story that is being assiduously spread in Maputo by the U.S. embassy). On the contrary, Prime Minister Pascual Mocumbi as repeatedly stressed his intention to respect the law establishing municipal districts which calls for elections in 1996.
The key issue is not whether but where the elections will be held - in some of the country or all of it? Renamo wants nationwide local elections while the government wants them initially only in those districts that can generate a significant local tax base (which means the provincial capitals and a few other relatively prosperous areas.)
Logically Renamo should be delighted at the government position, since this would allow it to concentrate on winning control of several key cities - Beira, Quelimane, Chimoio, Nacala and possibly Tete and Nampula - instead of dispersing its meagre resources over the entire country.
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