Mozambique ready for key presidential vote

Campaigning for Mozambique’s presidential elections wrapped up on Sunday with a rock-and-roll rally to drum up enthusiasm for the ruling party’s first post-colonial candidate.

Addressing a crowd of around 5 000 supporters at an open field in Maputo, Frelimo’s Filipe Nyusi promised jobs and economic opportunity, and vowed to fight graft in the country his party has governed for nearly four decades.

Wednesday’s presidential and legislative election is being closely watched, especially by foreign investors, as Mozambique stands on the cusp of reaping vast wealth from its nascent gas industry.

Nyusi, from the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province near Tanzania, told the rally that his name, in the local Makonde language from his far north region, translates to mean bee. “I am the bee that will make honey for all!” he pledged.

The 55-year-old candidate, a former defence minister, is little known to the public, and represents a change of guard in a party ruled up to now by former fighters who led Mozambique to independence from Portugal in 1975. In a bid to appeal to the country’s burgeoning youthful population, his rally was held on a gigantic, professional sound stage with performances from some of the nation’s best known pop and dance acts.

Frelimo heavyweights
Frelimo political heavyweights also turned out to offer support, including outgoing President Armando Guebuza, who is completing his second and final five-year term. Also in attendance was Graça Machel, the widow of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and of Mozambique’s first post-independence leader, Samora Machel.

In a frenetic speech, Nyusi fired off a list of his campaign pledges at rapid pace, to loud applause by supporters dressed mostly in his party’s red T-shirts. He said he was aware that people were frustrated with the pace of change but they “shouldn’t think that the president has bags of money in his office”.

He also pledged to improve the qualify of life for Mozambicans, most of whom scrape by on barely a dollar a day.

Frelimo and its candidate are expected to win the election, but with a lower margin compared to the 75% it gained in the last election in 2009.

Surprising gains
The opposition Movement Democratic Movement (MDM), whose candidate Daviz Simango is running for president for the second time, made some surprising gains in last year’s municipal elections.

Former rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama, a better known figure, has also been attracting huge crowds in his populist campaign. On Sunday he addressed a full-capacity crowd in the most populous province of Nampula in the north.

Dhlakama, who dubbed himself the “spokesman for the poor”, has cast himself as the candidate for those who feel they have lost out during Frelimo’s long reign.

But many disheartened voters are simply giving up on politics. Abstention rates have climbed over the past decade – with more than 40% of voters staying away from the polls in 2009. “We don’t see the importance of the election because the government doesn’t help us. There has been no change since 1994,” said Matias Cossa, a taxi driver and former Frelimo supporter.

“The rich are still rich, the poor are still poor, so won’t change anything if he wins,” said Cossa, who shunned Nyusi’s rally.

‘Pet dog’
Cossa, like many voters, raised concerns Nyusi would not hold the reins of power, comparing him to a “pet dog” for the outgoing president, Guebuza.

Guebuza, even after he leaves office, will still serve three more years as party president. One of Frelimo’s slogans has been a “force for change” but allegations of corruption in the government have dented the party image.

In his final rally, Nyusi admitted “there has been a lack of transparency, there has been abuse of power”, but vowed no one would be above the law under his watch. – AFP

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