On 20 November 2013 Mozambique held municipal elections, which attracted little international attention, and as such the fact that they were largely successful is an important indicator of the health of political pluralism in a country touted as a post-conflict success story with impressive GDP growth.
The municipal elections saw citizens in 53 Mozambican municipalities head to the polls to choose their mayors and members of their local Municipal Assemblies. According to the final official results, announced on 5 December 2013 by the National Elections Commission (CNE), Frelimo won the elections for mayor and for members of the municipal assemblies in 50 of the country’s 53 municipalities.
However despite the apparent white wash at the polls, the ruling Frelimo party has actually seen significant erosion in its general support base. By way of comparison, in the 2008 municipal elections, Frelimo won all but one municipality. In sharp contrast in 2013, the newly formed Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) – a Renamo breakaway group founded in 2009 – has managed to take some serious victories, and has cut into Frelimo’s votes in many important areas.
Due to the MDM’s strong showing, Frelimo failed in a goal it had loudly proclaimed right from the start of the election campaign– to win back the two cities where there were already mayors from the opposition MDM, Beira and Quelimane. In fact, these two mayors, Daviz Simango and Manuel de Araujo, significantly increased their majorities, and can now govern backed up by comfortable MDM majorities in the municipal assemblies, which they did not enjoy previously.
The MDM put up a strong fight in urban centres, especially in Maputo, where there has been vocal opposition against President Armando Guebuza and his party. This is the first time the MDM has contested nationwide municipal polls. Critically therefore Mozambique’s political arena seems divided along rural and urban lines, whereby the MDM controls three major cities, Nampula, Beira and Quelimane, and was only defeated by relatively thin margins in other urban centers, especially given Frelimo’s historical electoral record. Whereas Frelimo appears to have remained strongest in the country side, where peasants can still be depended upon to support the party further.
“These results are good enough to make MDM a serious opposition for next year’s elections,” Mozambique analyst Joseph Hanlon said, predicting, “…they will replace Renamo”. That would spell an end to the decades-long Frelimo-Renamo political duopoly. “When you look at the turnouts, they were way up in Beira and Quelimane and this shows they (the MDM) can organise and it shows they can get the vote out,” Mr Hanlon said. That kind of organisation, he said, was “something Renamo could never do”.
Frelimo won the last general elections, in 2009, with around 75 per cent of the vote. In 2014, it will face a tougher battle, particularly as President Armando Guebuza is not eligible to stand for a third term, and the Frelimo Central Committee has not yet picked the party’s presidential candidate. With the elections scheduled for 15 October 2014, time is running out for Frelimo to ensure that its new candidate is known to the electorate throughout the country before polling day. Clearly therefore political change is afoot in Mozambique, and the results could indeed see the country heading towards true two party democracy, or even a long awaited changing of the guard, following Frelimo’s impressive run in power from the end of the civil war in 1992 to the present.