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Ruling Party Ahead in Mozambique's Orderly Election

Ballots are still being counted in Mozambique's general election, but early returns show ruling party candidate Armando Guebuza leading his main rival. It is not clear how the very low turnout will affect the outcome. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter told a small group of reporters that the two days of voting appear to have been "almost perfect," but he is concerned that election officials may not allow international observers to witness the final vote tally.

President Carter gave a preliminary approval to the Mozambican poll, despite concerns over the low voter turnout. President Carter said he and his observers questioned the party polling agents, especially from opposition groups, at every polling station they visited.

"We have found that they had no complaint or problem with the conduct of the election itself," said Mr. Carter. "So all I can judge so far is what we've seen in the first two days, and I would say that it's almost perfect in terms of a meticulous compliance with the rules and regulations and laws, and we have had adequate access."

President Carter said his teams of observers filed 585 reports on what they saw at polling stations around the country. Of those 585 reports, he said, only two dealt with irregularities that the observers felt were serious enough to invalidate the results. Mr. Carter said he does not know what the incidents were, but he hopes to have more information on Saturday.

But the Carter Center's final endorsement of the poll could be complicated by an unresolved standoff with the National Electoral Commission (CNE).

Although observers have been able to watch votes being counted locally, the commission has so far refused to allow international observers to witness the final vote tallying process at the regional and national level.

Several observer groups have been pressuring the CNE to change its mind, most vocally the European Union, which funded about 70 percent of the cost of the poll.

President Carter says observers need to witness that final tally, because they can only report on what they actually see.

"There is no guarantee in the law that international observers can witness the final deliberations of the CNE," he noted. "There's no prohibition against it, either. And so if we are not given that right, then the observers, domestic or international, cannot certify that the entire process was free and fair."

Voter turnout appears to have been extremely low around the country, and it is not clear how that factor will affect the results. Mr. Carter said he has not yet seen final turnout figures from around the country, but his experience in the capital region alone indicated that turnout was roughly half of what it was in the last election five years ago.

"My wife and I visited 125 sites yesterday in the Maputo area, and my rough estimate is about 30 percent of the total list did vote in one of the two days, almost all of them in the first day," he added.

Final turnout figures will not be available for some time, and the real number is hard to calculate anyway. Technically there are more than 10 million people on the voters roll in Mozambique, but that number includes a lot of dead people who have not yet been dropped from the register. The real number of living registered voters is believed to be between 7.5 million to 8 million.

Even so, the kind of turnout that President Carter reported in Maputo province would mean that around 40 percent of Mozambique's living registered voters actually went to the polls.