MOZAMBIQUE: Rushed provincial elections threaten accountability

Monday, July 9, 2007

Mozambican President Armando Guebuza recently announced that the country's first-ever provincial elections would take place on 20 December, but officials warn that the short preparation time will make it difficult to organise a "quality" vote, raising fears of lack of transparency.

Voters will choose the members of 10 new provincial assemblies, representing a partial devolution of political power, which has so far been largely centralised in Maputo, the capital city.

António Carrasco, head of Mozambique's elections administration, told government-controlled newspaper Notícias that a December date would mean a rushed electoral census, and the cost of holding the elections, once pegged at US$27 million, could double.

He feared that a December scenario would mean that the "process would not have the quality we all would want", because it would also take place during the rainy season, with the possibility that polling sites in some parts of the country would be inaccessible to voters and poll workers.

President Guebuza, of the ruling socialist FRELIMO party, was reportedly reluctant to seek the needed change to the constitution to allow a later date, and the leadership of RENAMO, the main opposition party, was likewise eager to hold the vote this year. The constitution mandates that the elections take place in 2007.

"The electoral census will be deficient. There will be lots of 'ghosts' on the lists - voters who don't exist. It's going to damage the process; it won't be clean," claimed former FRELIMO legislator Gilberto Mendes. "The elections must be pushed to next year."

The national elections in 1999 and 2004 were widely criticised for numerous irregularities, due to allegedly poor organisation and instances of documented fraud. In both cases, "technical problems and a lack of transparency ... undermined the credibility of the process", said former US President Jimmy Carter in the foreword to a report by the Carter Center, a human rights NGO that observed the elections.

A more inclusive system

The new provincial assemblies, supporters say, will increase citizen participation in local affairs and amplify opposition voices.

FRELIMO has held near total power since 1975, when the country obtained its independence from Portugal. It maintained single-party control during the 16-year civil war that followed, and has continued to exercise a firm grip on politics since the first multiparty elections in 1994. Critics say the party's lengthy period in power has led to confusion between the state's functions and the party's.

RENAMO is strong in several parts of the country, including the populous central provinces of Zambezia and Sofala, but has so far been excluded from national and provincial government.

The new provincial assemblies will have limited powers, and will not set policy or make laws, for example. However, they will have oversight functions and veto power over plans and budgets enacted by provincial governors, which will still be appointed by Maputo.

"Provincial governors need to be independent of the president; that's the only way to have effective oversight," said Marcelo Mosse, director of the Mozambique Centre for Public Integrity. He felt that creating "jobs for the boys" in provincial assemblies was a way of providing more salaried positions for party members.

Mozambique analyst Joseph Hanlon, editor of the Mozambique Political Process Bulletin, said the assemblies' restricted powers would nonetheless be significant. "It is clear that in Sofala and Zambezia the governor is going to have to negotiate with RENAMO if he wants to plan the budget."

Hanlon pointed out that election lists would be compiled at district level, which would encourage participation by people in areas normally locked out of the governing process, and foster government accountability. "The point of decentralised government is, you know who your representative is, you can talk to him."

Raising the stakes

With more at stake, RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama has ramped up the pitch of political rhetoric. In a speech in Zambezia in February, about alleged FRELIMO election fraud, Dhlakama reportedly said: "In Zambezia alone I have more than 5,000 commandos who know perfectly well how to shoot, and who are awaiting my orders to take action. Guns are not a problem. We can get a hold of them easily."

The RENAMO leader made similar threats in March, saying that police who came near voting booths - which was a gesture of voter intimidation - would be "killed instantly".

While many thought his comments were empty sword rattling, a legislator from a rival opposition party took them seriously enough to file an official complaint against Dhlakama with Mozambique's chief prosecutor.

Source: IRIN
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