Mozambican parties make final push for votes

Mozambique’s political parties prepared their final push for votes on Sunday, the last day of campaigning for Wednesday’s elections that are widely expected to be won by ruling party Frelimo.

With Mozambique’s opposition divided by a recent split, getting out the vote is seen as crucial in a race where turnout, rather than victory, will be the measure of satisfaction with incumbent President Armando Guebuza and Frelimo, the party that has governed Mozambique since independence in 1975.

“Guebuza’s biggest opponent is going to be voter turnout,” said Anne Pitcher, a political scientist at the University of Michigan.

“That says as much about Frelimo as a vigorous opposition,” Pitcher said. “If they get 36% turnout again”—the rate from the 2004 election—“it’s just a very negative statement about Guebuza’s time as president.”

Each of the three candidates for president had scheduled large rallies for Sunday in a final bid to get supporters to the polls.

Guebuza was slated to speak in Nampula, in north-east Mozambique, the country’s largest electoral district.

Fourth-time presidential hopeful Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the main opposition party Renamo, planned to hold a rally in the capital city, Maputo.

Daviz Simango, founder of Renamo breakaway party the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM), was scheduled to close out his campaign in his hometown of Beira, the country’s second-largest city and the site where he launched his new party in March.

In all, 17 political parties and two coalitions are competing for ballots from Mozambique’s almost 10-million voters in presidential, parliamentary and provincial races.

Wednesday’s general elections will be the Southern African country’s fourth since a 1992 peace deal brought an end to its 16-year civil war and ushered in the first democratic elections in 1994.

Frelimo has overseen a period of rapid economic growth since the peace agreement.
The nation’s income expanded an average 8% a year for a decade after the war.

But lately the boom has been slowing. This year’s growth rate is forecast at 4,5%.

And though many Mozambicans are enjoying newfound prosperity, 90% of the population still lives on less than $2 a day, one of the highest poverty rates in the world.

Yet Renamo, the long-time voice of the opposition, has struggled to convert discontent into votes.

The former rebel group has had difficulty overcoming its image as a guerrilla army that fought a war of destabilisation against the Frelimo government with help from white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and apartheid South Africa.

Some view the emergence of the MDM as a sign that voters are hungry for another option.

MDM leader Simango, a former Renamo member, founded the new party after Renamo refused to run him for re-election as mayor of Beira last year.

He ran as an independent instead and won with 62% of the vote. Renamo, meanwhile, failed to claim a single mayoral race nationwide.

Simango used the momentum from his victory to found the MDM, taking several Renamo leaders with him.

“There is desire on the part of many to break out of the so-called two-party system, which is seen by some as a kind of straitjacket,” said John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I think we really are going to see the end of bipolarity” in Mozambican politics, said Pitcher.

But with Simango racing against the clock, she said, that may have to wait for the next general elections in 2014.

This year, Pitcher said, “I think the real contest is for second place.”—Sapa-AFP

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