Following the 2023 municipal elections, Mozambique’s ruling Frelimo party has claimed to have won in 64 of the 65 municipalities that were at play on 11 October.
However, the rigging and irregularities, carried out with the connivance of the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Management (STAE) and to a certain extent by the National Electoral Commission (CNE), significantly altered the will of the people.
Renamo, the largest opposition party and the greatly affected by the rigging of elections in Maputo City, Matola, Quelimane, Nampula and Nacala, has been carrying out a two-pronged strategy: a massive campaign to restore electoral truth through popular mobilising and fighting legal battles in court. In the cities in question, Renamo has been carrying out a series of marches which draw thousands to show the support it currently enjoys. Meanwhile, it has also lodged appeals with the courts to challenge the previously announced results, which gave victories to Frelimo.
The international community has also started acting. The United States embassy in Maputo issued a press release on 16 October recognising the “determination with which the people of Mozambique participated in the sixth multiparty municipal elections on October 11,” adding that “the voting day was generally peaceful. But the embassy admits the existence of “many credible reports of irregularities on voting day and during the vote tabulation process.”
As such, it recommended that CNE “must ensure all votes are counted accurately and transparently.” The embassy then urged the electoral bodies, local courts and the Constitutional Council, which doubles up as an electoral court, to take all complaints of irregularities seriously and act on them impartially. “A clean, transparent, and peaceful election process is essential to the future of Mozambique’s multiparty democracy,” it added for good measure.
On 24 October, Canada, Norway and Switzerland issued a joint statement saying that they joined members of the international community and civil society organisations in Mozambique “voicing concern about the reported election irregularities, notably on voting day and during the vote tabulation process.”
They too urged “all parties for continued efforts to uphold human rights, the rule of law and for the Electoral Management Bodies to ensure a transparent and fair election process.”
Furthermore, they called on “all parties to work through the appropriate complaints process within the Mozambican legal system to ensure confidence in the integrity of the democratic process and to address reports of irregularities in accordance with Mozambican law.”
This might have sounded like music to the ears of the opposition Renamo, MDM (Mozambique Democratic Movement) and ND (New Democracy), which are fighting legal battles to revert electoral fraud in the municipalities they won. For example, in Zambézia province district of Gurué, Frelimo obtained more votes than the local population. Renamo and ND lodged complaints, which were dismissed for “lack of evidence”.
However, the action of the courts has been mixed, and in one case for the same complaint: in Matola, a district court denied Renamo’s appeal but accepted MDM’s one and ordered a recount. In other places, the courts have simply refused Renamo’s appeal alleging various reasons, namely bureaucratic such as not accepting non-notarised documents; the absence of the originals of the results sheets (parties keep the copies of the results sheets and minutes and the electoral bodies keep the originals).
Another element is the excessive complication of the process and Frelimo’s interference with the magistrates in the municipalities of Maputo, Matola, Quelimane, Gurué and Nampula.
Indeed, Frelimo has seemed nervous for a party of its accumulated experience. Last weekend it mobilised its members in various municipalities – Maputo, Matola, Vilankulo, Angoche and Nampula – in what was termed “demonstrations of gratitude” on account of the votes garnered. This took place while the legal battles are going on. In Maputo and Matola, there are reports that Frelimo had to bus people from other surrounding districts to make up the numbers.
Surprisingly, for a party that won 64 of the 65 municipalities, it has been busy lodging its counter-appeals. In Matola, where the court had dismissed Renamo’s complaint but accepted MDM’s and ordered a vote recount, Frelimo counter-appealed arguing that the Constitutional Council should dismiss the arguments of the local court because it “lacked authority” to order the recount.
Meanwhile, Mozambique’s Police (PRM) has threatened to sue Samora Machel Jr. (known by Samito), the son of Samora Machel and Josina Machel, and member of Frelimo’s Central Committee, for decrying the violence meted out by the PRM on demonstrators in Chiúre district, in Cabo Delgado, resulting in the death of four people.
The police contested Samito’s version of the facts, arguing that only one person had died, and said they are likely to sue him.
Samito has already replied, writing on 24 October on his Facebook page that in his “condition as a citizen, the important thing are not the numbers, but facts.” The PRM has been a pillar in President Filipe Nyusi’s growing authoritarianism and is used to intimidate internal and external voices which context his decisions and stances.
Frelimo insiders say that internally there are more contestations, but they are not as vocals and open as Samito. In many fora, talk of elections is a must with the present concluding that the elections had become a “collective shame”. However, party discipline and fear of reprisals hold party members back from being more outspoken about the issue. But there is a consensus that “Frelimo has hit rock bottom.”
For its part, Renamo has taken the battle outside Mozambique. Last week, the current mayor of Quelimane, Manuel de Araújo, spoke in the Portuguese-service of Voice of America programme “Washington Fora de Horas“, where he denounced the massive electoral fraud, results manipulation and a probable outcome due to Frelimo’s influence and political ascendency over the Constitutional Council. For de Araújo, the country is no longer a democratic space and because of that, Mozambique’s partners should reconsider their cooperation with Maputo.
The question being asked by many is why, if Frelimo won overwhelmingly, it is afraid of a recount. The answer is found in the actions of the party which is delaying the inevitable and dictating a solution to a small problem which is growing like a snowball: the mobilisation of its members could transform them into cannon fodder in the field battles that are likely to occur in some cities as both parties radicalise, especially because Renamo followers have asked the party for a march for the destruction of STAE, CNE, and the courts because “marching every hour does not bring results.”
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