MAPUTO, Mozambique -— Mozambique turned to vote-counting on Tuesday in an election that tests a wary peace in the southern African nation of nearly 30 million people, while scattered incidents of ballot-stuffing were reported and observers in several provinces were restricted from doing their work.
Acceptance of the presidential, parliamentary and provincial election results is a key test of the ceasefire signed in August between the government and opposition Renamo rebels after years of skirmishes following a 15-year civil war that killed an estimated 1 million people.
The ruling Frelimo party, which has governed since Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975, is expected to be returned to power. President Filipe Nyusi is expected to win a second term in a vote where insecurity and political tensions kept some people from the polls.
Nyusi urged Mozambicans to avoid violence and maintain “total serenity, total calm” — a week after police acknowledged that several suspects in the murder of prominent local election observer Anastacio Matavel were police officers, leading to condemnation from some international vote observer groups.
Local feelings on Nyusi are mixed. The president can claim credit for the $25 billion Mozambique Liquid Natural Gas project, part of efforts to tap substantial deposits of natural gas, but his first term has been overshadowed by an economic crisis caused by a $2 billion corruption scandal in which companies set up by the secret services and defense ministry secretly borrowed money to set up projects that never materialized.
The opposition Renamo’s candidate and new leader Ossufo Momade is expected to benefit from the party’s popularity in the countryside.
In comments carried by national broadcaster TVM, Momade held up what appeared to be tampered-with ballots, saying, “It can’t continue like this … We want democracy. We want peace.” He said his party would not accept any vote manipulation, and called on “my brother” Nyusi and security forces to respect the popular vote.
The local Center for Public Integrity noted incidents of pre-marked ballots and late-opening voting centers, but the center and a collection of non-governmental organizations said that in general polls opened normally across the country.
“We are already on the right track, but we need a little more,” said one voter, Ofelia Rambique, in the capital, Maputo. “We hope that with these elections the government will try to do more things to achieve peace and achieve the change that everyone expects.”
Also seeking the presidency is opposition MDM candidate Daviz Simango, the mayor of Beira city, which suffered badly in the devastating Cyclone Idai earlier this year.
The country on the Indian Ocean was hit by Idai and, weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth, raising fears about what climate change would bring to the sprawling coastline in the decades to come. Hundreds of thousands of people are still recovering from the storms and hunger is a growing concern as months remain before the next substantial harvest.
Insecurity also poses a growing threat. At least 10 polling centers did not open in northernmost Cabo Delgado province as Mozambique’s election authority said it could not guarantee safety from attacks by shadowy Islamic extremists, who have killed more than 400 people in the past two years. Some 5,400 people are not able to vote.
Some 13 million Mozambicans were registered to vote. Preliminary results are expected Wednesday, with full provisional results before the end of the week.
A runoff will be held if no presidential candidate wins a majority.
For the first time Mozambicans were also electing provincial governors, a key concession to Renamo. Previously all governors were appointed by the ruling party.
In 10 of the country’s 11 provinces, the governor will be the lead candidate of the party or list which wins the most votes in the provincial assembly election. Maputo, the 11th province and the capital, is both a city and a province and it was decided not to add a governor to the elected mayor.
However, Frelimo has established a new management layer, a provincial secretary of state, which will be appointed by the president and take on many of the powers that governors have had up to now.