On 24 October 2018 Mozambique’s National Electoral Commission (CNE/Comissão Nacional de Eleições) confirmed the results of 10 October municipal elections despite allegations of impropriety raised in at least five municipalities.
The main opposition party, Renamo, had submitted evidence to the CNE of its allegations that results had been amended to favour the ruling Frelimo party in the municipalities of Monapo, Alto Molocue, Moatize, Morromeu, and Matola. Frelimo was declared the victor in all five of the municipalities by the slimmest of margins, in some cases less than 5% or just a few hundred votes. Renamo claimed that these results were illicitly altered and that, in some cases, its electoral monitors were excluded from the process and not shown the results sheets to sign off on. In Alto Molocue, at least, Renamo’s complaint appears to have some legitimacy as the parallel count performed by observers from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) had Renamo winning the municipality with over 50% of the vote.
The CNE justified its certification of the results by outsourcing responsibility for resolving the dispute to the Constitutional Council and the country’s court system. At the time of writing, Renamo had not yet announced whether it would approach these bodies to challenge the election results in the municipalities at issue. It is unlikely that either the Constitutional Council or the courts will overturn the results, but some kind of challenge is likely as Renamo will want to claim the political points and leverage the argument that parts of the municipal election were rigged as a galvanising talking point to rally its supporters ahead of next year’s national general election.
The upcoming 2019 national general election is also the reason why Renamo will remain in the formal political process and not return to its rural hideouts. The party is invested in the peace process and ongoing political reforms and, with the next elections bringing the decentralisation of power with provincial legislature electing governors, Renamo has the opportunity to take formal political control of provinces in Mozambique – granting it access to much-desired systems of patronage.
In fact, these municipal elections were viewed by many as a dry-run for the 2019 election, especially as the municipal political system has also been decentralised ending the direct election of mayors and instituting a proportional representation system. Through this system, Renamo won control of eight of Mozambique’s 53 municipalities, including the key cities of Nampula, Quelimane, and Nacala. This was the first time in 10 years Renamo contested the municipal election, and it now has a foothold in governance in Mozambique.
While Renamo gained vote-share from both Frelimo and the MDM, the big loser of the 10 October 2018 election was the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM/Movimento Democrático de Moçambique), which was essentially reduced to a regional party, localised in the Beira municipality.
The wider election results would also have given Renamo cause for optimism. Not only did it win control of eight municipalities and three large cities, but it secured seats in almost every municipal council including the Frelimo stronghold of Gaza. This indicates that Renamo’s messaging is resonating across the country. Further, given the location of Renamo’s outright victories and the disputed elections which were exceedingly close (seven municipalities have no outright majority forcing minority governments or coalitions), in the 2019 election Renamo looks well poised to win or be competitive in the provinces of Nampula, Sofala, Tete, Zambezia, Manica, Niassa, Maputo, and Cabo Delgado. The surge in Renamo support in Maputo and Cabo Delgado provinces will be a particular concern for Frelimo and a source of motivation for Renamo.
However, what will really motivate Renamo ahead of 2019 is national voting patterns and statistics from the municipal elections. Voter turnout was an estimated 60.05%, notably high for a municipal election and closer to national ballot expectations. In addition, when the ballots from all 53 municipal elections were tabulated it revealed that Frelimo received only a slim majority of the votes – only 51.78% of all ballots cast. Renamo received 38.9%, and the MDM 8.5%. The remaining 0.82% was divided among the smaller parties.
This indicates that Frelimo is within a narrow margin of losing its governing majority and Renamo is within eyeshot of being able to win nationally in a possible future coalition. However, the ability of Renamo and the MDM to work together in a coalition remains doubtful.
While Renamo has reasons for optimism the party also faces serious challenges. Key among these is the need to settle the underlying leadership uncertainty which has existed since the May 2018 death of Afonso Dhlakama. While Ossufo Momade has assumed the role of ‘interim leader’, the party will need to have a definite figurehead to rally around ahead of the national election. Further, given the potential stakes involved of a closely fought election, Renamo’s presidential candidate will have to command total control of the party to avert inherent risks of internal party instability in the build-up to the national election.
The five disputed municipal elections and the CNE’s abdication of responsibility in the matter have also given cause for concern ahead of next year’s election. While Renamo might be willing to accept the loss of the municipalities now, it will not be as accommodating if this were to recur in a provincial or national election. These are far more valuable political prizes and whoever the new Renamo leader is will want to display strength in bringing the party to power. If there are vote irregularities in the national election or one or more provincial elections in 2019 there is a strong risk of protests and associated violence. The possibility of such a dispute derailing the peace process and leading to a return to conflict in Mozambique cannot be discounted. Accordingly, the CNE, Frelimo, and international observers will need to ensure that the five contentious municipal results were just a hiccup in a local election and one that is is not repeated in 2019. This will also require Frelimo to be willing to lose control of provinces and even risk losing its national majority; something initial signs indicate is unlikely.