MAPUTO (AFP) – Mozambique began voting in a general election yesterday that some fear could test the country’s fragile peace, after a heated campaign marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.
The Frelimo party, which has ruled the impoverished southern African nation since independence from Portugal in 1975, is widely expected to again beat its arch-rival Renamo, a former rebel group turned main opposition party.
President Filipe Nyusi, who cast his ballot as polls opened at 7am, called on voters to show “the world we stand for democracy and tolerance”.
“Mozambique has chosen to move forward peacefully,” he said, adding that more than 4,000 observers had been deployed in the most-watched election in the country’s history.
“Let’s continue this process in a serene way. Peace means that everything must be done according to the rules.”
Nyusi, 60, is forecast to win a second five-year term despite his popularity taking a hit from chronic unrest and a financial crisis linked to alleged state corruption.
While the election is expected to see regional wins for Renamo, few think Frelimo will be unseated from government after 44 years at the helm.
“Frelimo is a machine,” said Castro Davis, a 42-year-old public servant in the capital Maputo, predicting a “straight-forward victory”. Elena Jorge, 50, told AFP she wants Renamo to win “but people know that these elections will not be free, fair or transparent – but we have hope”.
Around 13 million of Mozambique’s 30 million citizens are registered to vote at more than 20,000 polling booths, which closed at 6pm.
Renamo is predicted to take control of three to five of Mozambique’s 10 provinces for the first time following a change of law allowing voters to elect provincial governors.
“This election will be a test for democracy,” said Ericino de Salema of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.
“For the first time, the political geography of the country may change substantially, it may even lead to confrontation.”