/ 26 October 2009

Election express pulls in to Mozambique

After South Africa, Malawi and Botswana, the 2009 Southern Africa election express rolls into the region’s rising star, Mozambique, this week.

On Wednesday Mozambicans will vote in simultaneous presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections, in which a new party is trying to shake up a political landscape that has for three decades been split between civil war foes.

The winner of the war was President Armando Guebuza’s Frelimo party, which has ruled the former Portuguese colony since independence in 1975.

Frelimo looks likely to be rewarded for the country’s bullish economic progress in recent years with another five-year mandate and Guebuza, in power since 2005, also looks set to win another term as president. These are the first elections to 10 new provincial assemblies.

The country of about 20-million people, one of the world’s poorest that is prone to devastating floods, has achieved strong growth in recent years on the back of a surge of foreign investment in mining, hydrocarbons and renewable energy.

It’s the loser of the war, Renamo, that stands to lose the most in the election, according to analysts.

Renamo, which fought the leftist Frelimo between 1976 and 1992 with help from apartheid South Africa, has been accused of failing to break with its guerrilla past, by, for example, refusing to decommission its weapons.

Daviz Simango, mayor of the port city of Beira, is giving the country’s 10,3-million eligible voters another option.

Simango is formerly of Renamo but he quit the party last year after it refused to support his re-election campaign in Beira. He ran as an independent, and won the city easily, giving him the impetus to form his own Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM).

Composed mainly of ex-Renamo members, MDM is popular among young voters in Renamo strongholds in the north of the country.

The party’s general election prospects were dealt a severe blow when the election commission barred it from fielding candidates in nine of 13 constituencies on the grounds that it did not meet the registration requirements.

But Simango, who casts himself as a man of the people, and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, are expected to slug it out for runner-up in the presidential poll.

Compared to neighbouring Botswana and South Africa, which have been thrust into recession by the international slowdown, Mozambique has weathered the storm quite well.

The economy is expected to grow by a little more than 5% this year, only slightly down on last year, as investors line up to acquire coal, gas, hydropower, mineral sands and biofuels.

The country is planning to build a second major hydroelectric dam on the Zambezi river with an output of 1 500 megawatts, most of which would be exported to power-starved South Africa.

As the memories of the war recede tourists are also flocking once more to the country’s white-sand beaches and colonial cities, injecting hard currency into a country that is still heavily reliant on aid and still battling high levels of corruption.

About 19 parties are contesting the elections to the 250-seat National Assembly, while Guebuza, Dhlakama and Simango are the only candidates for president. The final results are expected only within two weeks. — Sapa-dpa