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Mozambicans Vote to Choose Chissano's Successor

Voters are going to the polls in Mozambique to choose a successor to longtime President Joaquim Chissano, who led the country to peace after a long, brutal civil war. Five candidates are vying for the presidency, but most people see it as a two-man race.

Poll workers tear off two ballots, one presidential and one parliamentary, and hand them to a voter, explaining precisely how each slip of paper must be folded before it goes into the ballot box.

Lines outside the polling stations have been long, but were moving relatively quickly. It appeared that most people were able to cast their ballots within an hour or two of getting in line.

This is only the third time that Mozambicans have gone to the polls for multi-party elections since a peace deal ended their civil war in 1992. Two of the men who hammered out that treaty on opposite sides of the negotiation table are opposing each other again today, on the ballot papers.

Ex-rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama turned his RENAMO rebel group into a political party, and is running for president for the third time. His main opponent is Armando Guebuza, a wealthy businessman and liberation struggle hero who is running on the ticket of the ruling party, FRELIMO.

They are vying to succeed outgoing president Joaquim Chissano, who after 18 years in power decided not to run for a third term.

At a polling station in one of Maputo's rougher neighborhoods, a voter named Vicente made it clear that even though the war ended 12 years ago, it is still the major factor in deciding his vote.

"We want peace, not war, not killing people," he said.

Voting for peace is shorthand in southern Mozambique for voting for FRELIMO. Many people in this part of the country still blame RENAMO for the war that brutalized the country for 16 years and left up to a million people dead.

Even after 12 years of peace, there is little love lost between the two parties, and the election is expected to be very close. Some observers fear there could be trouble when the results are announced, no matter who wins.

RENAMO, the rebel-group-turned-political-party, gets most of its support from northern and central parts of the country, including the second-largest city of Beira, which now has a RENAMO mayor. Mozambique's grinding poverty is at its worst in the north, which has remained less developed than the south, and many RENAMO supporters think the FRELIMO-led government has discriminated against those northern provinces.

RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama narrowly lost the last election to Mr. Chissano five years ago. Many analysts see this year as his best chance to win the presidency.

As Mr. Dhlakama arrived at a Maputo polling station to cast his ballot, he said he is confident of victory.

"The people want change," he said. "The most important thing is change in Mozambique. Even if a party rules the country very well, when it lasts for more than 15 or 30 years, the people want change. And that's what will happen here in Mozambique. We are going to have changes in these elections."

For its part, the ruling FRELIMO party is also promising change, but change with continuity. FRELIMO candidate Armando Guebuza is pledging to continue with most of Mr. Chissano's economic policies if he wins, but also to better address the country's enduring problems, such as poverty, AIDS and corruption.

"Iin terms of changes, we are going to benefit from the experience that we've gained from all this time [in power] so we can speed up the fight against corruption and make huge strides in the fight against bureaucracy," he said.

There are some eight million registered voters in Mozambique, and election officials say final results of the poll will not be announced for roughly two weeks. A presidential candidate must win at least 51 percent of the votes before being declared the winner, so it is possible the election could go to a second round.

Some analysts predict that a third candidate, Raul Domingos, could siphon off just enough votes from the two main contenders to force a runoff. Mr. Domingos used to be the number-two man in RENAMO but was expelled from the party in 2000, and formed his own party last year.