Mozambique holds elections on Wednesday and Thursday to choose a successor to President Joaquim Chissano, who ruled for 18 years and led the southern African country to peace after a long civil war that claimed up to a million lives.
Mozambique could give lessons in change. Just more than a decade ago, the country was racked by a brutal civil war, fueled largely by South Africa's apartheid government. But a 1992 peace deal turned the Pretoria-backed RENAMO rebels into a political party, and now RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama is seen as having a genuine chance at winning the presidency through the ballot box.
This is Mozambique's third multi-party election since the war ended. President Joaquim Chissano is leaving office after 18 years in power. He comfortably won the first poll in 1994, but his re-election in 1999 was tainted by a scandal over thousands of disqualified ballots in his opponent's stronghold in the north.
Mr. Chissano has been widely respected in the international community for having turned Mozambique's economy around after abandoning his FRELIMO party's socialist economic policies. The country now has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. But Mozambique also remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The United Nations says 78 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.
Mr. Chissano's administration has also been rocked by a number of corruption scandals, and Maputo-based businessman Danilo Mahanjane says many Mozambicans think it is time for a change.
"Regardless of the party, most of what they do talk about is change," he said. "There is support in people believing that this or that individual can bring about change."
Mr. Mahanjane says the opposition has naturally tried to capitalize on the failings of Mr. Chissano's government and his party. Mr. Dhlakama of RENAMO is making his third run for the presidency, and analysts say this year may be his best chance yet to win.
His chief opponent is FRELIMO candidate and liberation struggle veteran Armando Guebuza, who has a reputation for cracking down on corruption.
The businessman, Mr. Mahanjane, says FRELIMO may have salvaged its own chances in this election by choosing the popular Mr. Guebuza as its candidate.
"Definitely because of the candidate that they now have and because of his history, based on that they have been able to say that regardless of what FRELIMO has done in the past, we have a different leader, which means new blood, which means a new era, a new change coming in for the sake of the Mozambican people," he said.
The presidential contest is expected to be extremely close, and some fear there could be trouble when the results are announced, no matter who wins. Support for the two parties is largely divided along regional lines, with RENAMO stronger in the north and FRELIMO in the south.
There are at least five teams of international election observers in Mozambique, including groups from the European Union, the Commonwealth group of nations and the Southern African Development Community. Former President Jimmy Carter is also leading a team of observers from the Carter Center.
The head of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, Denis Kadima, is also leading an observation mission, and he says it looks like the pre-election period has gone much more smoothly than in previous polls.
"When it comes to the campaign itself, my impression is that it has been quiet," he said. "There have been instances of violence, but that has been quite isolated. I was here in '99, and I remember in one of the areas, in Tete province, the opposition could not even venture there. It was so bad the office of the opposition was burned down and so on. When you compare to what is happening now, up to this moment, the information that we have from our groups, it basically is violence-free with some isolated skirmishes."
But several groups of observers, led by the European Union, are complaining that the National Electoral Commission does not intend to let them monitor the final vote-tallying and verification process at the provincial and national levels.
The commission blames the decision on Mozambique's electoral law and says it is not negotiable. But observers including Mr. Kadima say they hope the commission will still agree to open the process to scrutiny.
"I hope at the end of the day, people will be able to see how it happens," he said. "Everything will be open to scrutiny, we really hope. Otherwise, we will have a very, very bad situation where the result of the election will not be seen as legitimate, and that would be unfortunate for this country because although they have been in this for 10 years, they still have to consolidate peace and democracy."
Voting will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, when Mozambique's eight million registered voters will choose their new president and members of parliament. Election officials say it could be more than two weeks before the final results are released.