Frelimo turns to dirty tricks for the 2023 local elections
Haunted by corruption, accused of running down the economy, Frelimo will nevertheless sweep the October elections – whether voters like it or not.
Voter registration kicked off in the country’s 65 municipalities on 20 April in an atmosphere that grew increasingly discordant. Characterised by multiple irregularities that affected the transparency of the process until it ended on 3 June.
Most of the problems were reported in areas where the opposition parties have voter sympathy. Among the earliest complaints was the uneven distribution of voter registration posts; there were far fewer allocated registration computers in areas where Frelimo has little influence.
The example that the opposition has always presented to the media is the municipalities of Marracuene in southern Mozambique and Beira, the country’s second largest city, located in central Mozambique. The two municipalities are equal in territorial area, but Marracuene, where Frelimo enjoys sympathy, had 164 registration posts for an expected 154,188 voters and the municipality of Beira, where the second largest opposition party MDM governs, had only 66 registration posts for an expected 389,093 voters. Chibuto, Gaza province, considered Frelimo’s stronghold, had 116 registration posts for a forecast of only 123,014 voters.
“The distribution of voter registration posts in this process was done on a party political basis,” said opposition party MDM president, Lutero Simango. “It is clear that there was irresponsibility and organised chaos,” he said.
An election administration body STAE director in Beira and member of the Frelimo party has a criminal case open in the attorney general’s office for having created a WhatsApp group with local brigadistas in which he gave guidelines and tips for not registering potential opposition voters. Despite the evidence of electoral malfeasance presented, and admitted by the election authority CNE, he continued to supervise voter registration, with the electoral authority justifying that it was awaiting the decision of the justice institutions. The voter registration process ended with him in office.Many cases were also reported of people transported from an area outside the municipal radius to register in municipal areas. In some cases, people were transported with state cars and admitted that they did so on behalf of the ruling Frelimo party, as was the case of dozens of people caught in Matola, Maputo province. There were also cases of nocturnal and clandestine registration in warehouses and houses of people with some responsibility in Frelimo.
On the final day of registration, in many posts in the opposition-held districts of central and northern Mozambique, registration closed early because Mozambique’s state power utility, EDM, ordered a series of power cuts, and district STAE directors ordered computer shutdowns, according to the election monitoring consortium ‘Mais Integridade’ which monitored the process across the country through its correspondents.
In the face of several irregularities culminating in the exclusion of citizens entitled to voter cards, opposition parties and independent observers requested an extension of the registration period, but the CNE refused citing a lack of financial resources and justifying that the number of registered people is acceptable by international standards. Preliminary STAE figures show 8.3m registered voters against 9.8m expected, an 84.91% completion rate. 1.4m were left out of the process.
An exercise riddled with irregularities
This was undoubtedly the voter registration with the most irregularities reported, whether by election observers, political parties, citizen reporters and other actors, according to political analyst and anti-corruption activist Edson Cortez. “It’s not clear whether it’s the worst registration exercise ever, but this was the one where the most irregularities were publicly reported.”
There were all kinds of irregularities with the potential to influence the election results, considering that the reported malpractices ultimately undermine the prospects of the opposition parties, Cortez told African Arguments. There are documented cases of illegal voter migration, people coming from non-municipal areas to register in municipal areas, he said, adding that some technical errors were deliberate.
A special report from the anti-corruption watchdog CIP revealed that there were few real mechanical failures and most of the alleged technical registration problems were intentionally caused by ruling party brigadistas to prevent opposition party members from registering. An IT expert told CIP that the level of computer breakdowns reported in these elections has never occurred in any country and that it is curious that the problems reported by supervisors were not communicated to the company that has technicians to repair them, which adds to the suspicion of manipulation of the equipment for political ends.
Frelimo and the electoral bodies CNE and STAE have a history of manipulating the process in favour of the party, Cortez said.
The largest opposition party Renamo is demanding an annulment of the just-concluded registration exercise, an audit of the voter register, and holding a fresh registration “impartial and free of manipulation and vices.” According to party spokesman Jose Manteigas, the request for a repeat, transparent election will guarantee “free and fair elections”. Frelimo’s Osvaldo Algumassa, meanwhile, said in Nampula that the party generally approved of the voter registration exercise, and that the irregularities recorded did not contribute to undermining the process at all.
Culture of election violence
The run-up to multiparty elections, introduced under the 1990 constitution and first held in 1994, have always been accompanied by violence. This election season, Frelimo and opposition party Renamo brigadistas have employed arson as their weapon of choice, targeting the homes of Frelimo and Renamo stalwarts,.
The most serious cases of violence occur after the results are announced. Lutero Simango, leader of the second largest opposition party MDM, says that the electoral bodies are the “centre of promotion of electoral conflicts”, accusing them of collaborating with Frelimo to manipulate the electoral process. He warns that the indifference of the authorities to illegal actions will force every Mozambican to resort to their own form of justice, stressing that the absence of a fair and clean process generates violence and confusion.
The largest opposition party Renamo has already come out publicly calling Mozambicans to a struggle against what spokesman Jose Manteigas called an “attempt to kill democracy.”
“We call on all Mozambicans, from Rovuma to Maputo, to join our struggle…against this attempt to kill democracy and perpetuate dictatorship, because to accept this voter registration will be to accept electoral fraud and to mortgage our future,” he said.
Electoral violence in Mozambique bears the Janus-face of the Frelimo government forces and the Renamo guerrillas. However, a process of disarming the largest opposition party was completed on 15 June with the demobilisation of Renamo’s last remaining military base, in the Gorongosa mountains, Sofala province. The up-coming elections will be the first that Renamo contests without an armed wing.
Frelimo alleges that fully disarming Renamo – a goal announced by Frelimo at the end of May – before the local elections on 11 October, will prevent opposition guerrillas from being “used” as an instrument of pressure on the ballot. “We want this process to take place before the municipal elections, because often Renamo’s residual armed men are used as a vehicle [to influence] the elections,” the head of the Frelimo parliamentary bench, Sergio Pantie, said. .
Popular dissatisfaction as a factor in electoral fraud
The government’s failure to execute its own programmes is now further exarcerbated by the economic crisis, now directly affecting families and businesses. Consecutive internal and external shocks – in particular, the effects of climate change, terrorist actions in Cabo Delgado, the pandemic, and more recently, the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – have created perhaps the most severe economic crisis since independence.
Major corruption is another factor affecting the lives of Mozambicans, constituting a source for the diversion of public funds, insofar as funds intended for socio-economic projects and the development of the country, through the construction of hospitals, schools, roads and other basic services, are diverted to serve individual interests.
The economy was slowly recovering since the resumption in 2022 of IMF budgetary support, suspended since 2016 after the financial scandal of the so-called ‘hidden debts’, which cost the economy about $2bn. Even with the resumption of aid, the country is still mired in crisis, with the IMF predicting recovery only from 2027 and 2029 when the export of liquefied natural gas in the Rovuma Basin by French oil company TotalEnergies and American ExxonMobil begins.
While awaiting the bonanza, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the Frelimo government, which has used every means at its disposal to prevent peaceful demonstrations and other forms of protest against the high cost of living. Any attempt to take to the streets is met by a heavily armed police apparatus.
Teachers, doctors, police and other professional classes have expressed their dissatisfaction with the deteriorating working conditions and low salaries. The most recent case is that of doctors who on 9 June announced the resumption at any time of a strike suspended on 12 December 2022, allegedly due to the fact that the government has not fully met their previous demands. The doctors’ threatened strike comes at a time when another association of health professionals is in negotiations with the government, after a 60-day suspension of the strike it had called on 1 June.
The Mozambican academic and political analyst Lázaro Mabunda believes that it is Frelimo’s poor governance and consequent popular dissatisfaction that makes the party bet on illicit activities to win the elections fraudulently, since it cannot count on the people.
“Frelimo itself has realised that the electorate has its back turned to it because the probability of having a not very good result is higher,” he said. “That is why the party seeks to make electoral processes won outside the ballot box.”
Society in general is completely unhappy with Frelimo’s increasingly erroneous public policies that are leading the country deeper and deeper into this economic crisis, added the political analyst and anti-corruption activist Edson Cortez. No lucid Mozambican would vote for Frelimo and the party knows that under normal conditions it is technically impossible to win the elections so it creates all these situations, he told Africa Arguments.