Photo credit: Flickr user ComSec
Frelimo, the political party that has ruled Mozambique since the country became independent in 1975, scored a victory of unprecedented magnitude in the country’s October 28 presidential election. Frelimo has won every national election since the 1992 peace agreement, this time garnering 75 percent of the vote, in contrast to its main rival, Renamo, which took a mere 16.5 percent. While the victory was unambiguous, it enlarges already instilled fears about growing single party rule in Mozambique.
With this result, Armando Guebuza, the incumbent president and one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, surpassed his 2004 triumph over Renamo leader Afonso Dhaklama, when Guebuza gained 63.7 percent of the vote to Dhaklama’s 31.7 percent. According to the New York Times, Frelimo officials anticipated a dramatic victory, with the party spokesman claiming that the Frelimo was “really just competing with ourselves; our aim is to win by a margin greater than in the past.” The opposition party is challenging the election’s legitimacy. Warning of an impending “people’s revolt,” Dhaklama held a session on Thursday to discuss the party’s future and argued that the meeting must decide “whether Renamo will manage to survive as a political force in [Mozambique]; whether democracy will survive, or has ended with the October elections; or whether Renamo, as the force which brought about this democracy will have to launch a demonstration in protest against all that happened on 28 October.”The history of rivalry between these competing political parties is decades long and marked by brutal violence. From 1975 to 1992, Frelimo and Renamo were the primary two warring armies in one of Africa’s most bloody civil wars (the country’s main north-south road is still adorned with ruined schools and burnt-out health clinics) and they became parties only after 1992. Today, however, what really raises eyebrows in not the competition between the two factions, but the lack thereof. With each additional Frelimo victory, Renamo sinks further; with no viable threat from a third party, only Frelimo is left to fill the vacuum.
This year’s elections were marred long before Mozambicans went to the polls. In September, the country’s Frelimo-dominated National Election Commission (NEC) announced that because of inadequate paperwork, the newly formed Mozambique Democratic Movement could not compete in most of the country’s voting constituencies. Its creator, Daviz Simango, the mayor of Beira (and the only non-Frelimo mayor in Mozambique), was able to compete as one of three presidential candidates, but the NEC’s decision left MDM only able to win, at most, around a dozen of the 250 seats in parliament.While international observers reported no electoral irregularities that would have a significant effect on the results, some flaws were reported. The EU Election Observation Mission noted that officers refused to accept complaints from monitors of the political parties. Renamo is rejecting the results of the elections, accusing Frelimo of stuffing ballots and other acts of electoral fraud. The electoral commission acknowledged that workers at polling stations intentionally marked ballots with ink to invalidate them. And the Mozambican Public Integrity Center and the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa revealed in their analysis that the commission also excluded more than 100,000 ballots. That said, considering the 58.5 percent margin, the irregularities were not nearly enough to change the outcome of the election. Similar observations were made in the country’s 2004 contest, with observers noting ballot-box stuffing, politicization of the NEC, and lack of transparency. Though highly critical of the country’s electoral conduct, the Mozambique Constitutional Council still accepted the election results.
Mozambique is not the only Countries at the Crossroads state in Africa where the prospect of single party rule seems to be looming ever closer. As discussed in an earlier post on this blog, the African National Congress’s overwhelming control of South Africa’s executive and legislative branches lends itself to the cultivation of corruption, as accountability mechanisms are rendered ineffective. Growing single party rule also affects Tanzania, where state officials favor the ruling party. While all political parties must gain permission from the police to hold rallies, for example, the ruling CCM party appears to hold rallies where and when it pleases, even as opposition parties have trouble securing permission. Moreover, Angola, perhaps the country with a history most similar to that of Mozambique, is a premier exemplar of the perils of single party dominance.Growing single party rule is not just a threat to democracy on its own terms; rather, it has far reaching consequences for other governance spheres, often exacerbating both grand and petty corruption, unfair campaign finance practices, and inequitable rules on freedom of assembly. Although Frelimo’s victory at the polls is unlikely to be seriously challenged or reversed, the election flaws are not without consequence. Mozambique is the world’s ninth poorest country, with a per capita income of US$770 in 2008, and is highly dependent on foreign aid. The country has drawn in investment and donations as a result of its market-oriented policies and rich mineral resources, and has been seen as a “darling of foreign donors.” But those very donors have expressed disappointment in Frelimo’s electoral behavior.
With Parliament almost entirely under the control of Frelimo, and an entrenched culture of political influence in the judiciary, Guebuza’s actions are likely to be left unchecked by the country’s other political institutions. In the absence of such checks and without any viable challenge at the ballot box, democracy and the foreign aid upon which Mozambique is highly dependent are at risk.