Mozambique Election Preview: end of the Guebuza era? – By Cate Reid
As Mozambique prepares to go to the polls on Wednesday 15 October, there are signs that the country could be at a political turning point. Few doubt that ruling Frente de Libertaí§í£o de Moí§ambique (Frelimo) will win, particularly with the opposition vote split between two parties (Renamo and MDM). But together they may take away Frelimo’s majority in parliament, curbing the control that the ruling party has exerted over the state since the country’s liberation in 1975. There are also hopes that the expected election of former Defence Minister Filipe Nyusi as President will mark a generational shift in government. This could, alongside greater balance in parliament, usher in a style of governance driven by laws and institutions rather than the whims of the elite.
It’s been a difficult year for Frelimo. Renewed conflict with main opposition party Renamo (Resistíªncia Nacional Moí§ambicana) has taken its political toll, with Frelimo taking a share of blame for the violence dragging on (particularly since last April.) While Frelimo held Renamo responsible for the deaths of military and civilians, it also found itself accused by some of putting politics before the lives of the people. Guebuza’s policy of limiting Renamo’s participation in the economy and politics is seen as having aggravated tensions that had declined somewhat under his predecessor, President Joaquim Chissano, and added to his general unpopularity.
The idea that Guebuza may have deliberately delayed the peace process (whether or not it is actually true) has ultimately damaged Frelimo, probably more so than the months of disarray and violence have done to Renamo or its leader Afonso Dhlakama.
On the contrary, Dhlakama has won admiration by apparently forcing Frelimo to make political concessions it has been resisting for decades. He even seems to be enjoying – perhaps unjustly – much of the credit for the peace that has come just in time for the election. Emerging from hiding only after the peace agreement was signed was a clever move that brought his supporters out in droves to welcome him as a hero. Though this is unlikely to last in the long-term, Renamo supporters may well feel a renewed motivation to vote in this election – buoyed by predictions that it will not be a Frelimo landslide and their vote will count.
Frelimo, on the other hand, has done little to win back lost support. A surge in kidnappings just before last November’s local elections suggested a rapidly worsening security situation in the country. The electorate placed the blame squarely with Frelimo and its failure to get a grip on rising organized crime and corruption in state institutions, such as the police. Whilst it is unclear whether either of the opposition parties would be able to govern any better than Frelimo, the local elections in November indicated that voters are willing to give them a chance simply for not being Frelimo.
It was a shock for Frelimo when the Movimento Democrático de Moí§ambique (MDM) captured a significant proportion of the votes – especially in urban areas and amongst younger voters. MDM also picked up votes from some supporters of Renamo, after the party went ahead with an election boycott but did not cause the Election Day disruption they had threatened.
A party that was formed in 2009 by disaffected Renamo members, MDM made little impact in the general election that year. But it is increasingly popular and, as a party at least, it played no part in the civil war waged between Renamo and Frelimo. This is attractive to voters keen to move on from civil war politics and MDM’s regional victories in major cities are likely to be replicated in this national election.
This is a worry for Frelimo, which would prefer to keep Renamo as their main opposition. Whereas MDM’s popularity seems to be rising, Renamo is unlikely to beat Frelimo in the foreseeable future. It has not made an effective transition from a guerrilla group to a political party and few people believe Dhlakama has the right skills to be a competent president. There are reports of Frelimo apparently obstructing MDM’s campaign and academic Joe Hanlon reports that Frelimo may collude with Renamo and commit electoral fraud to ensure MDM does not overtake Renamo. There are also fears of violence in the more hotly contested areas.
MDM is however, still to present a comprehensive set of policies, and its key weakness is its lack of experience. But the absence of a track record also means that neither does it leave a trail of broken promises and scandal – which has led to the rising discontent with Frelimo. While Mozambique’s economy is growing, propelled by a natural resource boom, poverty levels have not changed in ten years and ordinary citizens are fed up with inadequate infrastructure and basic services like health and education. They notice when promised roads never appear, when growing cities like Pemba suffer incessant power cuts, and when they must walk for miles to fetch water.
Business, including international investors, is also exasperated with the way infrastructure has lagged far behind the growth in industry. Poor railways were one factor in the recent decision of Australian mining giant Rio Tinto to cut its losses and sell its Mozambican coal assets for billions of dollars less than they paid.
These problems are not helped by rampant corruption and abuse of public office for personal gain. Frelimo’s image has suffered as the public has watched their socialist war heroes become rich in the capitalist world of business, while ordinary citizens see little tangible benefit from the exploitation of their country’s resources.
But Nyusi, the Frelimo Presidential candidate, is not seen as part of this and indeed comes across as a humble and honest. This gives him an advantage, alongside his innate likeability, talent for oratory and willingness to listen. Despite having a relatively low profile and little experience, he has gained support from across the Frelimo factions and increased his public popularity in a short time. He may even attract a higher percentage of votes than Frelimo, as some of the electorate are likely choose MDM for government, but instead of voting for the rather less charismatic MDM leader Daviz Simango, cast their ballot in favour of Nyusi for president.
Nyusi however, became Frelimo candidate through a less than transparent internal process, which has only added to the perception that he is “˜Guebuza’s man’ and will act as a puppet leader while the current president retains power in the background. Guebuza will remain head of Frelimo for the time being, giving him influence over government decisions through the strong role that the ruling party plays in the process. For this reason, most factions in the party want a re-election far earlier than the scheduled date of 2017 so that Nyusi can replace him and consolidate his power.
It is difficult to predict whether Nyusi will be able to assert his independence from Frelimo power-brokers, but it is clear that the electorate and indeed Frelimo want to see an end to the Guebuza era. Greater balance in parliament could accelerate this, giving the party and therefore Guebuza less control. Ultimately, this is what both the party and the electorate want to see.
Cate Reid is a freelance journalist. She will be covering the Mozambique elections for African Arguments.