XAI-XAI - Mozambique held general elections Tuesday, with pundits saying it could be the biggest test yet for Frelimo, the party which has been in power since independence. The president said the elections are being closely observed. But civil society groups say thousands of would-be election monitors were denied credentials by the authorities.
As Mozambique went to the polls Tuesday, the ruling Frelimo party faced its biggest challenge yet from the opposition Renamo party.
But amid an escalating insurgency in the north and pre-election attacks on political campaigners in the south, President Filipe Nyusi said the country had chosen peace.
One of the things that Mozambique has decided to follow is peace, he said -- peace meaning no violence, and this will start to be part of the culture of Mozambique forever.
Nyusi made the comment after casting his vote in the capital, Maputo, where he also declared the election would be widely watched to ensure the best party wins.
These are the most observed elections in the region, he said. During the last election we had about 10,000 observers, now we have more than 40,000.
But in Gaza province – a traditional Frelimo stronghold – election observers say authorities only granted about 1,000 observer credentials – half the number requested.
Paula Monjane has been coordinating the civil society election observation effort in the province.
“We worry that, because it seems and it shows that there is an interest to block civil society to observe. And, particularly in a province that had problems. So, the numbers of people who were registered were very much contested. It was important for this process to be much more clear and let the observers to observe so that it gives a bit of credibility of the numbers that we will get at the end,” said Monjane.
Leading up to the general election, Gaza province has been embroiled in controversy and tension.
Last week, members of an elite police unit shot dead the leader of a local election observer mission. Anastacio Matavel was killed as he left a training session for local observers on how to ensure a fairly-run election.
Authorities admitted that police were involved in the killing, an act that shocked many and frightened some observers away from polls, which few analysts expect to be free or fair.
Suspicions were raised in Gaza in April after a controversial voter registration saw the number of voters exceed the number of adult inhabitants by 300,000.
Mozambican journalist Fernando Lima has followed every election since the first one in 1994.
He noted while there was enthusiastic voting in other parts of the country, turnout was very low Tuesday in Gaza province.
“Now we are in the middle of the afternoon. We are three hours from the closing of the polling stations. And, there’s almost no people..queuing or expecting to vote in the next couple minutes,” said Lima.
Mozambique’s elections are widely expected to extend Frelimo's rule over the southern African nation just as it is set to become a major gas exporter.
Oil giants Exxon Mobil Corporation and Total are leading projects in Mozambique’s north to tap one of the biggest offshore gas finds in a decade.
Official election results are not expected until two weeks after polls close.