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Mozambican Opposition Leader Cries Foul Before Election Ends

On the second day of Mozambique's general election, opposition presidential candidate Afonso Dhlakama is already accusing the ruling party of fraud. His opponent, ruling party candidate Armando Guebuza, says the results will reflect the people's will. The polls were still open on the second day of voting when presidential candidate Afonso Dhlakama of the opposition RENAMO party told VOA that he already believes the election has been tainted by fraud.

"It is impossible for those elections to be free and fair…. It's clear! This is not propaganda. It's clear!" he said.

Mr. Dhlakama said police in several districts refused to allow his party polling agents to stay with the ballot boxes overnight.

He also said the electoral commission failed to get ballots to all of the polling stations on time. He said tens of thousands of voters were unable to cast their ballot in a number of districts where his support has been traditionally high. According to one report, the electoral commission on Thursday used canoes and helicopters to get ballot papers to some remote areas that they had not been able to reach the day before.

The issue of greatest concern to the hundreds of international election observers in Mozambique is whether they will be allowed to witness the final vote tally, which the electoral commission has declined to let them do.

Mr. Dhlakama accused the ruling FRELIMO party of fraud in the last two elections as well, although international observers declared those polls to be fair. He lost the 1999 vote by a very narrow margin to President Joaquim Chissano, who is not running for re-election.

This year, Mr. Dhlakama said the important thing to him is not whether he wins or loses, but whether the poll is fair.

"If I will not win? Well, my sister, I am a democratic man. Important here is not [whether I will] win or not win. For me, important is transparency of process. Because… I can lose, I can win. For me, I am not crying to win. My important is to tell people to vote for me. Because I feel I will be better to lead this country," he added.

And yet the rebel-leader-turned-politician says he cannot predict what his supporters will do if he and they feel the election has been stolen.

"If fraud will be there, I will tell my people, 'Well, I lost because they're robbing me,'" he noted." "People will decide how they can do. But if the election would be free and fair, and people not voting for me, it's not a problem. Because people feel it is not time for Dhlakama to be president. But if myself I win, and they rob like what happened in 1994 and 1999, this will be difficult. Not because I will make it difficult. People will insist they are right."

In a VOA interview earlier in the day, Armando Guebuza, the FRELIMO candidate, indicated that he too is confident of victory. Some analysts have predicted that neither man will win the required 50 percent of the votes, forcing the election into a second round. But Mr. Guebuza says he doubts that will be necessary.

"My strong impression is that, unless we have a surprise, it's just going to be one round. I think people have made up their minds what to do, and whom to vote [for]," he said.

Neither candidate disputes the fact that Mozambique is fairly evenly divided between support for RENAMO and FRELIMO. Traditionally, that support has been split along regional lines, with the opposition stronger in the north and central provinces and FRELIMO stronger in the south.

More than a decade after the war ended, there is still lingering mistrust and hostility between not only the two parties, but between residents of the south and the north.

FRELIMO supporters in the south blame RENAMO for the 16-year-long civil war that killed roughly one million people before it ended in 1992. RENAMO supporters believe the FRELIMO-led government has withheld development projects from opposition strongholds in the north.

Mr. Guebuza evaded the question when asked whether FRELIMO supporters would be able to accept a RENAMO victory.

"My belief is that people are ripe to understand the consequences, the impact of democracy in their own lives," he explained. "They will always make sure that they continue to be free, they continue to have a real democratic life. That's more important. And there is peace. Peace is very important for Mozambicans."

Mozambique has had 12 years of peace and 10 years of multi-party democracy, and very few Mozambicans seem to think there is any real danger of the country sliding back into war. Mr. Guebuza indicated that for now at least, FRELIMO believes it is still an effective campaign issue.

"Not really, the people are not talking about it," he added. "But the fact is that at the back of our minds we all, whenever we vote or do something, we take into consideration the problem of whether this choice of mine will guarantee that peace continues."

At the polling stations on the final day of voting, few people in Maputo expressed much concern about whether Mr. Dhlakama would accept the results or not. A 22-year-old student named Cesar Jose was unimpressed by the opposition leader's complaints.

"Dhlakama always does that, but I do not think there will be a problem," he said.

Turnout has appeared to be extremely low in most parts of the country, and most polling stations in Maputo were practically deserted on Thursday morning. The head of the electoral commission said he was dismayed by the low turnout, and appealed to voters to get to the polls immediately. His plea appeared to have little effect.