OpEd: Will Frelimo’s local poll victory boost party in Mozambique’s 2019 elections ?

Mozambique’s national and presidential elections are scheduled to take place in 2019.

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By Gary van Staden – Senior Political Analyst, NKC African Economics.

Official results of Mozambique’s local authority elections announced on October 14 provided a boost to the prospects of the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) ahead of national and presidential elections scheduled for 2019. The scale of the victory suggests Frelimo and President Filipe Nyusi face no serious electoral threat next year.

Ossufo Momade acting leader of the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo), an opposition party cum rebel movement, was not happy after the comprehensive defeat. As was the habit of his late predecessor Afonso Dhlakama, Mr Momade threatened to suspend peace talks.

However, there is little prospect of that threat materialising as Renamo is currently too weak politically and militarily to make good.

Elections in Mozambique always produce two main headlines – Frelimo Wins and Renamo Complains. Allegations of fraud in the wake of last week’s (October 10) vote follow a well-trodden path of fraud and rigging allegations that may contain elements of truth but never enough to alter the scale of Frelimo’s electoral successes and which tend to be exaggerated.

The most recent local results were no exception, with Frelimo winning 44 local authorities against the eight councils won by Renamo while the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) took one of the 53 local councils. Frelimo won 49 councils in 2013 while Renamo boycotted that poll.

There is some evidence for Renamo making gains in the central and northern regions of the country, but not enough with just a year to go to suggest it poses a credible electoral threat. Renamo won several major cities in Zambezia and Nampula provinces, its traditional stronghold, and came close in several others, but the results seem to confirm its regional rather than national power base.

Faced with the prospect of an electoral disappointment following the release of early results, Mr Momade told AFP that the ruling party had falsified results in several areas and he threatened to abandon the peace talks that have made considerable progress since Dhlakama’s death.

The latest phase of the peace talks between Frelimo and Renamo began in 2016 to end three years of violence between government troops and Renamo rebels that had created instability and impacted investment and logistics in the country.

Mr Nyusi and Mr Momade have made progress on the disarmament and integration of former Renamo rebels into the police and army and the decentralisation of powers to local and regional authorities.

“We do not want war, but we also do not accept any attempt to change the popular will,” Mr Momade told AFP, suggesting the “popular will” favoured Renamo while all other indications suggest otherwise.

The local authority elections cleared up several factors ahead of the national polls scheduled for next year. First, with barely a year to go, Renamo will be hard pressed to mount a serious challenge that dents Frelimo’s support. That will allow some continuity in the country that faces several major economic and financial crises that demand urgent and focused attention.

On the upside for Renamo, the outcome strengthened its position as the major (only, really) opposition after the MDM failed to make any headway.

While we accept that elections in Mozambique have seldom been in the same room as perfect, there has over several years been no credible evidence of large scale state-sponsored rigging or fraud and this election is likely to be no different.

Renamo may make threats and puff out its political chest, but it has little politically or militarily to back a withdrawal from the peace process for anything but a token period and we expect the talks to resume when the dust settles.

Gary van Staden – Senior Political Analyst