Post-election Mozambique: Here comes an era of uncertainty

Post-election Mozambique: Here comes an era of uncertainty

Caught between the triumph of election victory and the disquiet of losing almost 20 percent vote share, Mozambique’s ruling party, FRELIMO, faces a challenging future. Mozambique was thought to have turned the page on its violent past, yet economic progress is thin, and political relations fraught as FRELIMO continues to face a serious challenge from its nemesis RENAMO. By PAULA CRISTINA ROQUE.

Hailed as transitional by local observers, the latest polls were expected to usher in a new type of leadership in FRELIMO, with Filipe Nyussi being the first non-liberation northern leader in a southern dominated elite; they would also see opposition parties RENAMO and MDM alter their strategies and become more politically relevant; and would possibly be the last polls before the country became a mass resource-producing economy. However, the Presidential and parliamentary elections of 15 October have made the political setting, the prospects for improved governance and wealth redistribution more opaque, and the implementation of the new peace agreement harder.

Despite donor dependency and development shortfalls – the country is ranked 178 out of 187 in the 2014 UNDP Human Development Index – Mozambique is generally regarded as a successful post-conflict transition. ‘Mozambique rising’ became a slogan, reflecting the emergence of a country of just over 20 million richly endowed with gas and coal and ripe for rapid development. But the fault lines underpinning Mozambique’s journey have become increasingly visible over the last two years. Alongside seven percent annual growth rate, regular democratic polls, an active civil society and independent media are deep wealth disparities and a ruling party that has become omnipresent since it came to power in 1975, stymying the path to further democratisation and fiscal transparency and concentrating power and wealth.

President Nyussi will have to manage FRELIMO’s internal power struggles, and work closely with his predecessor Armando Guebuza, who remains president of the ruling party until late 2017. He was not Guebuza’s initial choice, raising the prospect of two competing centres of FRELIMO power. Nyussi must establish his authority, demonstrate a commitment to reform and renewal, and prepare Mozambique to become a natural gas producer whilst managing the expectations of an impoverished population for more services and development. And Nyussi must do all this while implementing a peace deal with RENAMO. After almost two years of low intensity conflict, a deal was struck six weeks before the polls. This included changes to election rules but was focused mainly on a ceasefire and provisions for disarmament and reintegration of RENAMO combatants. Key outstanding issues regarding reform of the security sector and civil service and wealth redistribution were left to after the polls, when the political landscape was expected to become clearer.

But the election results only made matters murkier. FRELIMO saw its representation in Parliament reduced from 191 seats in 2009 to 144 and lost its two-thirds majority; conversely, RENAMO increased its representation from 51 seats to 89 whilst the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM) secured seventeen seats, up from eight. In the presidential polls, Nyussi secured 57 percent whilst RENAMO’s Afonso Dhlakama received over 36 percent and MDM leader Daviz Simango around six percent. Some local analysts contend that Nyussi would have faced a second round against Dhlakama had the polls been completely fair.

Opposition and civil-society groups allege fraud, electoral mismanagement, and ballot stuffing; meddling with voter-registration lists; nullification of opposition votes; alteration of results at district level; stopping citizens from voting, and barring observers from polling stations. Research by Mozambique’s Centre for Public Integrity shows serious problems occurred in ten percent of polling stations, although the independent, parallel vote-tabulation process suggests the official results were largely accurate. The MDM is demanding a new poll to take place in four southern provinces, where FRELIMO is accused of having disenfranchised the opposition’s vote. RENAMO at first demanded a government of national unity but has now proposed a caretaker government be installed until the next polls in 2019 with a technocratic executive comprised of nominees from the two main parties. FRELIMO has rejected this possibility, particularly as new disagreements emerge in the peace deal over the modalities of the disarmament process, raising prospects of further drawn-out negotiations – there have been almost ninety rounds thus far. FRELIMO’s offer to place 300 RENAMO combatants in the security services is regarded as tokenistic, particularly in a context where the erosion of RENAMO’s presence in the national army over the years is perceived as deliberate. The disarmament of RENAMO fighters should have already started, but the party is refusing to demobilise. For now, it seems more interested in political gains that will leverage greater financial benefits than in using the negotiating platform to push for greater access and equity within the agreed contours. Prospects for movement on all fronts appear limited in the aftermath of the contested polls. Renewed violence now seems possible.

Although opposition efforts to secure legal remedy regarding electoral irregularities are being dismissed by the Constitutional Council, the question remains how Nyussi’s government will implement the September peace agreement with a counterpart that is politically bolstered and which questions the new government’s legitimacy. FRELIMO must proceed cautiously; Nyussi will be expected to deliver more on the socio-economic front, but will also need to balance carefully party-elite-veteran interests while fending off a bolder and more watchful opposition. Dhlakama has returned to brinkmanship and his recent threats to make the country ‘ungovernable’ unless a caretaker government is installed shift the goalposts once again. Whatever the political arrangement that results from the impasse between the two, the country will need more initiatives to integrate it, develop it and create a society that is less stratified along regional, ethnic and political lines.

With the discovery of over 100 trillion cubic feet of reserves, Mozambique could become the world’s third largest natural gas producer, after Qatar and Russia. This makes the rewards of power even more attractive. Economic opportunity to date has tended to benefit the politically well-connected, and this trend is likely to be exacerbated without government steps to promote accountability and revenue transparency from extractive industries. However, with RENAMOs renewed sense of political relevance and national support, and FRELIMO’s reduction in voter support, the zero-sum mentality in both camps is increasing. Whilst negotiations continue, militaristic tones are revealing the emergence of a double strategy pursued by both to undermine each other while harnessing support for another potential confrontation. Political reforms, good governance, sustainable development, and fiscal transparency may well be sidelined by such imperatives. Short-term gains from this approach, however, are likely to further delay the economic and political transformation Mozambique needs – and the country could face yet another round of instability. DM

The author is a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

Photo: The then Frelimo party candidate for the presidential elections, Filipe Nyussi delivers his speech during a rally on the last day of campaigning in Maputo, Mozambique, 12 October 2014. EPA/ANTONIO SILVA


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