from ARIMANDO DOMINGOS in Maputo, Mozambique
MAPUTO, (CAJ News) – POMP and trumpet blast characterised the end of the official campaign period in what is panning out to be the most fiercely-contested polls in Mozambique but in the background, tensions are brewing and some doubts persisting over a credible exercise.
Campaigns ended on Saturday with all favourites in the race for the presidency, all high-spirited ahead of the Tuesday vote, drawing thousands into respective venues for their final rallies.
A total of 13 million Mozambican voters were to participate in the national exercise to elect the president, 250 parliamentarians and ten provincial assemblies plus their governors.
Incumbent, Filipe Nyusi, traversed the 1 400 km in a final campaign exercise that started in the northeastern Nampula and concluded in Matola, to the south.
The local stadium was a sea of red, the signature colour of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), in power since independence from Portugal in 1975.
Music blazed from the vehicles of exuberant supporters outside the venue, with the carnival also continuing inside while they awaited his address.
Nyusi pledged that if re-elected, his administration would continue building peace, security, public order, political stability, tolerance, harmony, democracy and national unity.
FRELIMO’s campaign is premised on sustainable and inclusive economic and social development.
“During the campaign, we showed that we have the best programme to find the best solutions that the country needs,” he told supports mostly clad in red T-shirts.
Nyusi also promised his government, if re-elected, would maintain a crackdown against corruption.
“We shall catch the corrupt and bring them to trial,” the incumbent said.
The northern port city of Nacala, some 2 000 km away from Nyusi’s rally, the streets teemed with supporters of the main opposition Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO).
Many chanted party slogans and sang aboard bicycles and motor-cycles in anticipation of the address by party leader, Ossufo Momade.
Cultural ensembles added to the festive atmosphere in this region that is seen as the stronghold of the party.
RENAMO romped to a convincing victory in municipal elections held last year- winning five of seven posts.
Momade was only formally elected in January this year to succeed longtime party leader, Afonso Dhlakama, after the latter’s death last year.
These will be the Southern African country’s first elections without Dhlakama.
The incumbent’s main rival, Momade pledged that if elected, a RENAMO-led government would slash electricity and water tariffs and enhance health, education and transport services.
“On Tuesday (today), we are all going to vote for RENAMO and for Ossufo Momade. Vote for the development of our country,” he told thousands of party fans.
The final day of the campaign saw him traverse over 200 km between Angoche, also in Nampula, to Nacala. In between, he made a stop at his homeland of the Island of Mozambique.
Another front-runner, Daviz Simango, of the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), restricted his final rally to the city of Beira.
It was the epicentre of the Cyclone Idai, which left massive infrastructural and human destruction when it made landfall in Mozambique in March.
Beira is still reeling from the devastation, hence the atmosphere was laid back as compared to the fanfare characterising final rallies held by Nyusi and Momade.
His criticism of the Maputo Peace and Reconciliation Agreement signed in August between FRELIMO and RENAMO dominated Simango’s address.
Some hardliners in RENAMO are opposed to the truce and have thrown their weight behind factional head, Mariano Nhongo, as the leader of the party.
The furore stems from the issue of the integration of RENAMO’s armed men back into society.
“It is not enough to sign agreements just for the sake of signing them,” Simango said.
Simango said if elected, his government would prioritise education, health and agriculture.
“These form triangular base for the country’s development,” the opposition leader said.
“An MDM government will ensure opportunities for all on all fronts of economic and social life,” Simango pledged.
Bloodshed and natural disasters have however overshadowed progress made by political leaders to deliver a credible poll of some 30 million people.
The Centre for Public Integrity (CIP) estimates that 44 people were killed during the six-week election campaign. Some 271 people have been injured and 59 detained.
However, while political violence has been documented, most of the deaths are attributed to accidents involving vehicles used during the campaign period.
CIP classified the run-up to the election as bloody.
Police arrested 50 people in connection with the violence.
The recent murder of election observation leader, Anastácio Matavel in the city of Xai-Xai in Gaza, was the lowest point.
Some rogue elements within the police force have been implicated in the killing.
In the most tragic incident, ten people died in a stampede in September at the end of a rally addressed by Nyusi at a stadium in Nampula.
Predictably, the terror attacks by Islamist groups north of the country were always going to be an impediment to the holding of peaceful elections.
The province of Cabo Delgado is worst afflicted.
The Mozambique’s Electoral Commission (CNE) has announced ten voting stations in the most affected districts of Macomia, Mocimboa da Praia and Muidumbe districts would not open for the general election.
This will leave 5 400 voters unable to cast their ballot.
The electoral process poll has already suffered setbacks in the region.
A wave of attacks by the militants during voter registration, which began in May, forced the closure of several registration posts in some districts.
Some areas suffered violent attacks during the just-ended campaigns.
The United Nations (UN) estimates that approximately 60 000 people have been affected or displaced by the insecurity after the conflict started in late 2017.
“It might be too late to ensure safe elections in these areas,” said Zenaida Machado, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Africa researcher.
The Electoral Commission has disclosed that an undisclosed number of people may not be able to vote because they have lost their voters cards or did not register to vote after fleeing attacks on their villages.
It could not be ascertained how many voters would not participate.
More than 200 people have been killed during the crisis in Cabo Delgado.
The area has been plagued by insecurity perpetrated by the Al-Sunna wa Jama’a or Al-Shabab.
Since then, armed groups have carried out over 200 attacks on villages, and security forces and armed groups have clashed several times.
The United Nations estimates that approximately 60 000 people have been affected or displaced by the insecurity.
Nyusi lauded the military for its commitment in fighting the terrorist groups active in the resources-rich area.
“We reiterate our total commitment to guaranteeing security to the population of Cabo Delgado,” Nyusi said.
– CAJ News