Both major opposition parties – the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo/Resistência Nacional Moçambicana) and the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM/Movimento Democrático de Moçambique) – have rejected the provisional results of Mozambique’s 15 October 2019 election due to allegations of voter fraud and intimidation and have called for the election to be annulled and held again. While final results have yet to be released, Renamo further accused the government of violating the August 2019 peace accords due to widespread violence and intimidation of opposition supporters by security forces. The opposition parties made these statements on 19 October 2019 as it became increasingly clear that the ruling party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo/Frente de Libertação de Moçambique), was set to secure a landslide victory.
As of 21 October 2019, it is predicted that President Filipe Nyusi will win re-election with 71% of the vote, substantially beating Renamo’s Ossufo Momade (21%) and the MDM’s Daviz Simango (7%). Frelimo is also projected to dominate the next legislature as it is expected to win a two-thirds majority in the legislature, giving it complete control over the process. More surprisingly, Frelimo is on track to win nine of the ten provincial elections, including traditional Renamo strongholds such as Sofala. Only Zambézia is considered to have an uncertain result due to a successful campaign to prevent observers from conducting a parallel vote count.
This is a shock outcome in an election that was widely predicted to be significantly closer and in which Renamo was expected to win three provinces. However, there have been widespread reports of irregularities and potentially even voter fraud. International observers from the European Union (EU) on 17 October 2019 released a statement raising concern about the levels of intimidation and violence by state security forces targeting opposition supporters and independent observers. In addition, numerous reports of suspicious behaviour of election officials have emerged. These include officials purposefully spoiling opposition ballots with additional ink marks or dirty hands. This has allegedly resulted in thousands of Renamo and MDM votes being discarded. There is a notable portion of spoiled or incorrectly voted ballots in every election but election experts consider anything above 5% of ballots spoiled at a station to be suspicious. In the recent election, several voting stations in Renamo strongholds such as Sofala province have reported 10% or more of total votes being spoilt. In addition, rampant illegal election tampering has been reported with 21 October 2019 reports suggesting clear cases of “ballot-box stuffing”. In Zambézia province 19 districts recorded an unlikely turnout of 75% (the national average was about 52%) and all of these districts recorded over 80% support for Nyusi and Frelimo, despite Zambézia being a Renamo stronghold.
The clearest sign that suspicious activity and electoral fraud have occurred was in Beira, Sofala province. Sofala has long been an opposition stronghold and it is a province that has historically overwhelmingly supported Renamo. Beira was a Renamo stronghold until 2009 when Simango defected from Renamo to form the MDM, which has since retained a strong majority of support in the city. However, on 19 October 2019, the National Elections Commission (CNE/Comissão Nacional de Eleições) released the Beira election results stating Frelimo won over two-thirds of the votes in the city. This is a highly improbable reversal of voting patterns in the city, particularly since the MDM won re-election in the city convincingly in October 2018.
Some degree of electoral fraud was expected in the election as Frelimo was unlikely to risk losing power completely. This was clear ahead of the election when it emerged that an impossible number of voters had been registered in Gaza province, a Frelimo stronghold. However, it was generally believed that Frelimo would permit a generally free election, especially at provincial level, given that the peace agreement between Frelimo and Renamo is dependent on the successful holding of a legitimate decentralised election. This was the first election in which provincial governments would be elected and not appointed by the central government, enabling Renamo to win control of the provinces where it enjoys the most support.
In this context, the election results are expected to have a profound and potentially destabilising effect on Mozambique’s politics. Firstly, due to the suspicions of widespread electoral fraud and improbable results, Frelimo will struggle to claim legitimacy as a government. Protests are expected in Renamo and MDM strongholds in Sofala, Zambézia, Tete, and Nampula provinces. These protests will likely result in violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
In addition, the election results will possibly lead to an internal crisis within Renamo. Momade bet his political future on a successful election and this caused a division within the party and saw a militant group of Renamo hardliners opposing the elections break away from the party. Momade will likely face a leadership challenge and will need to take significant measures to ensure he retains control. Renamo has been humiliated by the results thus far and will be looking to save face. Whether Momade manages to remain as leader or not, Renamo will likely take drastic measures, potentially even withdrawing from the peace accord and returning to its insurgency.
As it becomes increasingly evident that the election was neither free nor fair, the possibility of Mozambique falling into a political crisis increases. This could mean violent protests and potentially even militant attacks. It is also likely that international mediators will be required to facilitate political talks. However, there is now an even greater trust deficit between Frelimo and Renamo than before and, short of a fully or partially annulled election, a peaceful solution appears unlikely. With results required to be released within 15 days of the election, tensions will remain high in the coming days with a host of social and economic consequences attendant on any collapse of the hard-won peace accord.