Mozambique fears fresh violence during elections

Mozambicans will cast their ballots in local elections on Wednesday, amid concerns that an upsurge in political violence will mar voting.

Opposition party Renamo has denied allegations it plans to disrupt the vote after months of deadly clashes between supporters and government forces.

"Renamo is not a party of violence. We as Renamo party never sat down to plan any kind of violence," a spokesperson for the party, Fernando Mazanga said on the eve of the vote.

Since late October, guerrillas from Renamo's military wing have been fighting a low-level insurgency against government forces in the central province of Sofala.

The party has not registered for Wednesday's polls saying the election laws must first be overhauled to ensure it has equal representation on election bodies to stop the ruling party stealing the vote.

Over the past year, Renamo repeatedly vowed to stop elections going ahead.

Troops over-ran former military 
However, when asked whether people would vote without fear of violence, Mazanga alleged that "other political or social forces" could take action.

"This cannot be attributed to Renamo," he said.

"If it [the election] goes well or it goes badly, it is not the responsibility of Renamo."

Voters in the district worst affected by recent fighting between government forces and Renamo rebels said they feared leaving home to cast their ballots.

"We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow [Thursday]. I think I will be home, I won't try to put my health in doubt, " a resident of Gorongosa village, João Rosario told said on Tuesday.

The village is just 30 kilometres from Satunjira, where government troops over-ran the former military command of Renamo's leader, Afonso Dhlakama in late October.

Go ahead with polls
Many of Dhlakama's fighters fled into nearby mountains. Dhalkama's whereabouts are unknown, adding to the climate of uncertainty.

"Renamo is up there. Perhaps they will come and disturb the elections," Rosario said.

Election authorities have vowed to go ahead with the polls, which are seen as a crucial indicator of the ruling, Frelimo party's grip on power.

"No one knows what will happen," election spokesperson Lucas Jose said. "At any moment they could attack but we have the obligation to open the voting stations," he said.

Voters are to elect mayors and local assembly members in 53 municipalities on Wednesday. Presidential polls are planned next October.

In 2008, Frelimo won all but one municipality. With Renamo boycotting these polls, opposition group, the Mozambique Democratic Movement, MDM (which already controls two towns) wants to collect the spoils, and plans to field candidates in all 53 municipalities.

Abstention levels
Abstention levels are traditionally high among Mozambican voters, particularly in municipal polls, held a year in advance of national and presidential elections. In 2008 less than half the number of registered voters turned up to vote.

This time voters are more concerned about seeing the government come to a political agreement with its former civil war enemy, than going to the polls analysts say.

"The lack of progress by both parties towards a concrete peace deal makes people not so enthusiastic about local elections," Mozambican political analyst, Egidio Vaz said.

"Everyone is really interested in making sure this country is not being dragged to war again," he added. – AFP

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