MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE - Mozambique held its fifth democratic presidential poll Wednesday, a vote that could determine how this nation handles its fate as a burgeoning energy producer. But the poll is still overshadowed by the civil war, in which two groups clashed for decades, first on the battlefield and then as political parties. That rivalry continues -- and reared its head Wednesday when supporters of the opposition allegedly vandalized three polling stations in the rural northwest. But in the capital, both parties expressed optimism, with both major candidates making high-proflile appearances.
Frelimo candidate Filipe Nyusi strolled confidently into the packed Maputo polling station Wednesday morning in a sharp suit and a red tie, looking every inch a president.
Analysts widely predict that his party - which touts itself as Mozambique’s liberator and has won every election for decades - will again triumph in this vote.
The relatively obscure Nyusi is being marketed as the continuity candidate, taking the mantle from President Armando Guebuza, who has served his maximum two terms.
Frelimo has vowed to keep the southern African nation on a course of investment and growth amid the discovery of massive gas deposits.
It took Nyusi less than 30 seconds in the cardboard booth to mark the two ballots -- one, a long list of parliamentary party contenders, and another, shorter form with the mug shots of three men -- including his own.
Afterwards, he addressed the media from an improvised podium, surrounded with red velvet cordons and hefty security men.
I voted, he said, for the future of my country.
His rival, Afonso Dhlakama, also made quite the entrance half an hour earlier, also looking like the president he has tried so hard to become for five successive elections (including this one).
Dhlakama is a compelling figure. He emerged from hiding just before the vote and commanded huge crowds at rallies. On Wednesday, he was mobbed by the media -- the diminutive candidate even got whacked in the head by an overzealous cameraman.
As the long-time leader of the Renamo party, he has complained that his party has been marginalized and denied a share of the nation’s wealth. Frelimo’s critics share the complaint, but some also point out that Renamo has never managed to form a compelling enough political alternative and too often resorts to threats of violence.
Dhlakama said he was confident of victory this time. “We hope that this time for first time, we can have free and fair elections in this county. We hope that we can see that. My campaign was 100 percent [wonderful]. If a campaign is like this it that means that someone won, I can say that I won,” he states.
Early reports from around the country indicate high turnout. But some journalists noted what they said were “serious problems.” mainly in the form of delays, in opposition strongholds in the north.
The vote has drawn a large array of observer groups, including the Southern African Development Community. That mission is led by South Africa’s deputy minister of international relations, Luwellyn Landers. He noted that acrimony persists in Mozambican politics.
“I think essentially what parties should be encouraged to do is to teach their members, their supporters, their voters, tolerance of other viewpoints, to teach their members, supporters and voters that other parties exist and have a legal right to do so and have a legal right to campaign whenever, provided it's done within the provisions of electoral law," Luwellyn said.
But voters in Maputo -- which is dominated by Frelimo -- said they were generally optimistic.
Former government worker Alberto Mondlane said he supports Frelimo. “You should look on the face of the people, and you can understand that change is here in the better way. … and you can see also in the environment, you can see buildings, and everything. And you can see that the change is there. And it is a very good change,” he stated.
And 29-year-old voter Laurina Joao brought her two-year-old son to the booth with her. She said she is hopeful of a Nyusi victory. He has a lot of good qualities, she said, and will give a lot of employment to young people.
Results are expected in coming days.