MAPUTO - Voters thronged polling stations across Mozambique for municipal elections that have been overshadowed by renewed clashes between the two armed groups that put the country through a long civil war.
Voting began smoothly early Wednesday near Mozambique's capital, but the poll was not without drama.
Renamo, a rebel group turned political party, said its members would not disrupt the poll, but the party boycotted the vote.
For Pedro Estevao, in the southern town of Matola, his was a vote for peace. He said, "We are here because we want peace. We came to vote for the person we believe will lead the town of Matola, in order to have big changes.”
Renamo has long expressed frustration at being an opposition party. The former anti-communist rebel group has claimed the ruling party, Frelimo, rigged elections and has marginalized the opposition.
Fighting erupted in October between government forces and members of Renamo. Renamo announced it was abandoning a 1992 peace deal with Frelimo that brought an end to a brutal 16-year civil war.
Mozambican President Armando Guebuza says he is confident his party, Frelimo, will prevail in the polls.
He said, "During the registration process, people said registration would not happen, and, spectacularly 85 percent of Mozambicans went to register. This is an achievement … From my perspective, at this exact moment we also continue to have the people's confidence in us, and that manifests itself in their participation in the vote."
Analyst Egidio Vaz Raposo of Mozambique’s Center for Media Studies says this municipal vote is actually very important for Mr. Guebuza and Frelimo.
“These elections are very crucial for Frelimo, and also for the president of the republic," he said. "Because the results will also dictate how he will be perceived, and will also dictate his influence into the next duration of the leadership, the transition itself.”
Mr. Guebuza also said the rebels do not have the capability to disrupt the vote nationwide.
He said he is not talking about the whole center of the country, but about areas that are well defined, which the press has talked about a great deal. He said he believes, "the central zone will also give its contribution by participating in these local elections."
Provisional results of Wednesday’s vote are expected Thursday but final results will only be released fifteen days later.
This vote, participants and observers agree, is merely an opening act. The main event will happen next year, when Mozambique holds national elections.
Mozambique has been piecing itself together since the end of its civil war 21 years ago. Since then, it has held several elections and adopted a constitution. The economy received a boost recently with the discovery of massive repositories of liquefied natural gas.