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Vol 60 No 21

Published 25th October 2019


Frelimo takes no chances

Despite claims that the election was won through fraud and violence, the results will stand and strengthen the President’s hand

President Filipe Nyusi has won a second and final term of office with the second-largest majority since multi-party elections began in 1994. The election win – which included parliamentary and municipal polls – is tainted by widespread accusations of fraud and unprecedented intimidation prompting fears that the fragile peace accord between the ruling Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo)and opposition Resistencia Nacional Moçambicana (Renamo) could break down.

Despite acknowledgement among observers, donors and diplomats that Frelimo's election win is corrupt, there is little prospect that Renamo's appeal for the polls to be annulled will succeed.

The argument that Renamo is not sufficiently mature to govern and a Frelimo win – however achieved – is in the best interests of peace and economic stability finds support even among some Frelimo critics. However, Frelimo's evident determination to retain power at any price will diminish domestic confidence in democracy, increase youth and voter apathy and make it more vulnerable to autocratic rule. While a narrow Frelimo win might have compelled greater accountability, the large majority it now has in parliament will tempt it to rule with even greater impunity.

The final results will be published on 28 October and are expected to confirm President Nyusi won about 70% of the total votes. The figure was only previously topped by his predecessor, Armando Guebuza, who gained 75% in 2005, but it comes against a background of growing anti-Frelimo sentiment among the electorate, especially in the wake of the US$2 billion hidden loans scandal of 2016, a growing violent insurgency in the north, mishandling of the Cyclone Idai emergency and state corruption scandals across the board.

The leader of Renamo, Ossufo Momade, came a distant second in the presidential contest with a projected 21% of the vote, and Daviz Simango of the Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM) may gain only 7%, according to preliminary results.

Ghost voters
Nyusi's improbable landslide victory was set in motion long before polling day, with manipulation of the registration process giving Frelimo a head start after the addition of about 300,000 'ghost' voters in Frelimo's strongest province, Gaza, and the blocking of registration in opposition strongholds (AC Vol 60 No 18, Frelimo squares the vote). After a poor showing in last year's regional elections when the party lost its majority in many provinces, the party galvanised itself for this month's poll with a highly organised, systematic and centrally driven fraud covering all aspects of the electoral process (AC Vol 59 No 21, Poll knocks Frelimo confidence). From registration to voting to counting, the strategy was consistently executed throughout the country to eliminate the risk of a close race. Election observers were intimidated (one was shot dead by police) and excluded from counts, homes of opposition activists were torched, police resources were freely used by Frelimo, and the Comissão Nacional de Eleições (CNE – the electoral commission) lost all semblance of impartiality as its officials were widely accused of facilitating multiple voting throughout the country.

In an exceptionally frank statement, the United States Embassy in Maputo said that its observers witnessed numerous violations of electoral processes including unsealed bags of ballot papers being left uncontrolled. Observers for the Election Bulletin produced by transparency watchdog the Centro de Integridade Pública (CIP) reported Frelimo voters not being required to properly ink their fingers after voting – presumably to enable them to vote more than once. Polling station officials said they received envelopes of money as bribes to facilitate such rigging, with some payments exceeding US$300. The bulletin has calculated that there were at least 282,000 'fake votes' for Nyusi, amounting to 5% of the total vote. This is without taking account of the less quantifiable swing to Frelimo as a result of intimidation and manipulation of registration. The bulletin estimates that at least 3% of opposition votes were illegally invalidated; this figure was as high as 32% in some opposition strongholds.

'Climate of fear'
Turnout in Frelimo strongholds was also improbably high, with six polling stations seeing over 90% turnout in Gaza. Thousands of independent observers were refused credentials, and others tell Africa Confidential they were forced to leave during critical moments prior to vote counting, against the regulations. More sinister was the violence that marred the campaign: the European Union observer mission described a 'climate of fear and self-censorship'.

Manipulation on this scale was not necessary in order for Frelimo to win, but the party was leaving nothing to chance and no expense was spared. Disillusioned party members came under heavy pressure to vote. Insiders say more than $40 million was spent on the campaign – far more than the $15m at play during the 2014 campaign. Voters were given cash for their votes all over the country. This was thanks, at least in part, to the completion of the sale of US oil company Anadarko to Occidental Petroleum, which in turn sold on Anadarko's African assets to France's Total, which was announced on 27 September by Nyusi. It brought with it the prospect of an $880m capital gains tax windfall. Frelimo is believed to have used the promise of this new cash to allocate more of the funds of the state to its campaign – a fact Nyusi all but admitted at a rally two days later, when he said the extra funds would boost the election budget because 'democracy costs money'. In reality, the beneficiary was Frelimo.

The state's resources have always been unlawfully used for Frelimo election campaigns, but this time it was on a bigger scale than ever before. Although this seriously disadvantaged Renamo, the opposition had its own problems. Fragmented and still struggling to transition from guerrilla movement to serious political opposition, it attracted votes more because of traditional regional loyalties and protest votes than because it offered a credible alternative to Frelimo. It lacks clear policies and Momade is seen as a weak leader whose enjoyment of extravagant spending leaves him with little room to take the moral high ground in the face of the Frelimo elite's largesse. He does not keep the same tight grip over party finances of his late predecessor Afonso Dhlakama, and has angered the guerrilla wing of Renamo, which believes Momade has sold them out so the political wing can live in luxury, we hear.

Renamo has said the electoral process constituted a violation of its recently-signed peace accord with Frelimo, which stipulates that 'acts of violence and intimidation for political objectives' are explicitly prohibited. It called for the elections to be annulled, citing widespread intimidation. Academic Joseph Hanlon, who has many years' experience of closely following the Mozambican electoral process, described an unprecedented 'a climate of control and intimidation'. He says that unlike previous elections, the fraud was centralised and determined by a 'message from the top.'  One example of outright violence was the mysterious shooting in Zumbo, Tete province, of the Renamo Women's League President Babula Jeque and her husband João Fenhane, the day before the election.

Thus far Renamo's reaction to the rigging and violence has not been as strong as many expected, but its leadership appears still to be deciding how to respond. Renamo's own democratic instincts are not highly developed and pundits believe it is always ready to make a deal, such as when it proposed to share out governorships with Frelimo without a ballot. Some believe Renamo will settle for financial compensation, which Frelimo can draw from the $880m windfall.

The African Union, whose mission whose mission was headed by Nigerian ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, unsurprisingly endorsed the polls. Yet despite the criticisms of the process by Western observer missions, the international community is certain to accept the result 'in the interests of stability'. Regardless of the rhetoric about democracy and transparency, the donor community in Mozambique prefers the devil it knows.

Commanding position
Nyusi is stronger now too. Internally, he is already seen as having significantly strengthened his grip over the party, and his victory convinced many party members who previously doubted his leadership. He has escaped from the shadow of Guebuza, who was conspicuously absent during the campaign, and has asserted his own control. Such is his transformation from inexperienced managerial figure to shrewd statesman that observers are beginning to see him as now one of the strongest leaders in the Southern African Development Community region. He is driving international deals that he believes are in the country's interests and his own, notably a growing alliance with Russia. Russian mercenaries last month began operations against Islamist insurgents in the north. Nyusi can be expected to return from the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi with more deals and a powerful ally in President Vladimir Putin.

A strong mandate should enable him to take controversial but arguably necessary decisions in the interests of the economy, such as concluding the restructure of the Mozam sovereign bond that was regarded as politically risky before the election (AC Vol 60 No 19, What the finance minister saw). But some insiders fear that his increased power will lead to more ruthless rule, both over the country and internally, with Nyusi liable to take decisive action against political opponents within the party in order to maintain his influence throughout his final term.

Despite enjoying greater political power than ever, the hidden loans scandal remains a risk for Nyusi as the aftermath continues to play out. He must decide what to do with the 20 Mozambicans jailed in association with the scandal, some of them former senior officials, with both their release or continued imprisonment liable to induce backlash from different party members. The possible extradition of former finance minister Manuel Chang to the US also presents some risks for Nyusi himself. But the power he has secured in the party and the international community's view that he is the best hope for peace and stability may be sufficient to protect him from any such fallout.

Another problem for Nyusi is the fact that this is his final term, meaning the party will be on the hunt for a successor in 2024 and the value of his patronage will diminish as that date approaches. With the line of succession mapped out since independence having ended when Nyusi took the place of his mentor and the intended successor, the Makonde General Alberto Chipande, who was deemed too old, the field is wider open than ever before and Nyusi will face many would-be kingmakers trying to shift power from under him.


Roughing up the country

Violence against both opposition and civil society has been exceptionally prevalent in the lead-up to the 15 October election. Ten individuals apparently regarded as a threat to the ruling Frente de Libertação de Moçambique project to manipulate the vote were murdered. The violence reflected badly on Frelimo and President Filipe Nyusi, who did not even pay lip service to condemning violence, let alone vow to punish the perpetrators. The shooting by an alleged police death squad on 7 October of activist Anastacio Matavele, head of independent civil society election observation in Gaza province, is reminiscent of the attacks on intellectuals critical of the regime around the time Nyusi took office in 2015 (AC Vol 56 No 10, Crime still pays).

Such attacks are intended to scare dissidents into silence and stem the tide of growing disillusionment with Frelimo. Particularly sensitive has been the subject of the $2 billion hidden loans, for which elements in Frelimo were willing to go to extreme lengths to keep under wraps. One casualty of the cover-up effort is believed to be the French lawyer Gilles Cistac, who was assassinated on 3 March 2015. Neither his case nor those of other prominent commentators, such as academic Jose Jaime Macuane, who was kidnapped and shot in the legs in 2016, or journalist Ericino de Salema, whose kidnapping and beating in March this year was similar to Macuane's, has ever been solved.

All attacks, including the fatal shooting of Matavele, took place in public in broad daylight and appear to have been orchestrated by police. Nyusi has kept silent over the incidents, offering no condolences or acknowledging the individual victims. It is a factor which has led some of the old guard in Frelimo to say they no longer recognise the party they built.

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