/ 15 October 2009

‘No space for democracy in Mozambique’

As Daviz Simango bounces down the rutted, unpaved road toward a campaign stop in a dusty town in northwest Mozambique, his head falls improbably to his chest.

The young founder of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM), a new political party that has shaken up the traditional two-horse race for Mozambique’s elections in two weeks, is asleep.

He dozes briefly, then snaps awake and picks up where he left off, criticising the current state of Mozambique’s democracy and outlining his vision for a new kind of politics.

”It doesn’t make sense that there are only two parties in the Mozambican Parliament,” says Simango, an opposition breakaway who became mayor of second city Beira.

”We are talking about democracy, and for many years of campaigning there are only two major parties. To give another alternative to Mozambicans — that’s what we are fighting for.”

Then, without warning, his head plunges again to his chest.

Like former British leader Winston Churchill, Simango has a gift for napping during precious down-time.

It’s a useful skill for someone facing the exhausting task of traversing rugged Mozambique, waging a David-and-Goliath campaign against an opponent whose advantages include money, incumbency and a helicopter fleet.

Most political analysts agree Simango, a squat 45-year-old with an earnest campaign style, stands little chance against the millionaire President Armando Guebuza and his ruling party Frelimo.

Still, he’s won attention by daring to challenge Mozambique’s traditional two-party system in place since the first democratic polls in 1994.

He goes to the polls against Frelimo, which led the country to independence from Portugal in 1975, and his former party Renamo, the former rebel group that fought a 16-year civil war against Frelimo’s Marxist-Leninist regime.

Simango’s emergence on the national scene has raised hopes among Mozambicans who worry the country is again becoming a one-party state under Frelimo.

Especially with Renamo facing trouble at the polls. The party failed to win a single mayoral race in last year’s local elections.

Simango, a former Renamo member who won re-election as Beira mayor last year on an independent ticket that scooped 62% of the vote — proof, he says, that Mozambicans are hungry for a fresh alternative.

It was his bid for re-election that caused his split with Renamo, where he was seen as a rising star. But the party refused to endorse him as their candidate, and Simango parted ways with Renamo in late 2008.

”What I’ve done in Beira opened a new page,” he told Agence France-Presse.

”When I came as an independent, people said, ‘Okay … you’ve won now. Don’t stop there. We want to see a lot of things for the country. Because we need a leader.”’

He founded the MDM in March, taking several prominent Renamo members with him.

But creating a viable opposition party will be an uphill battle, as recent events have underscored.

In 15 years of democracy, Renamo has struggled to gain a national foothold with long-time leader Afonso Dhlakama viewed by many as a perennial also-ran ahead of his fourth bid for the presidency.

Last month, the national elections commission ruled to exclude the MDM from running for Parliament in nine of the country’s 13 electoral districts, alleging incomplete registration documents.

The decision was upheld by the constitutional council, whose members are appointed by Frelimo and Renamo.

Simango accuses the two main parties of ”killing the democracy”.

”What [Frelimo and Renamo] are trying to do is to cut our legs and make sure that we can’t get a piece,” he says.

”There’s no space for democracy, there’s no space for people who have a different kind of way of seeing the things. So we must bring [together] all those who can think differently than the two parties and see what can happen.” — AFP