Mozambique: Towards the 1999 elections

Extracted from: "Mozambique" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 205-206.

The democratically elected Frelimo government took office in December 1994. The Renamo leader's demand that Renamo be assigned the governorships of the five provinces, where it won majority support in the legislative election, was rejected by President Chissano. All the provincial governors, appointed in January 1995, were Frelimo members. Onumoz withdrew from Mozambique at the end of March, leaving only a small unit of officials in the country. Meanwhile, in December 1994, the demobilization of soldiers had been completed, but the humanitarian assistance to former soldiers, returning refugees and internally displaced persons by other UN agencies and private organizations was to continue.

Owing to the difficulties experienced with the establishment of democratic local governments throughout the country, the local elections that should have been held not later than October 1996 - as stipulated by the constitution - was postponed by a year. Meanwhile, the constitution was amended to introduce two forms of local authorities: municipalities in the urban areas and the district capitals, and 394 administrative posts in the rural areas. Each of these units would have its own elected council and mayor. However, the government later announced that elections were to be held in December 1997 in only 33 urban municipalities. The elections were to be preceded by a registration of voters, organized by the CNE/STAE, but the government once again postponed them, to May 1998, on the grounds that funding for the registration process, promised by foreign donors, had not been disbursed.

Having opposed the limited extent of the local government system - specifically the exclusion of some towns in Renamo-held provinces - Renamo led demonstrations in Beira and other centres in the course of 1997. When the registration of voters was eventually completed Dhlakama claimed that the process had been fraudulent and threatened to boycott the elections unless a further registration of voters was conducted. Although the CNE attended to Renamo's complaints, the party did not participate in the municipal elections that ultimately took place on 30 June 1998. Dhlakama indeed launched a vigorous campaign to persuade voters to boycott the local elections. In the event, the average voter turnout was appallingly low, only 14,6 per cent, and Renamo applied to the Supreme Court to annul the elections. However, the court upheld the results, in terms of which Frelimo secured all the mayoral posts and took control of the 33 municipalities. Frelimo was unopposed in about two-thirds of the local elections, though independent candidates made a strong showing in Maputo and Beira by winning around 40 per cent of the local assembly seats.

As a first step to prepare for the 1999 national elections - due around October 1999 - the government established a parliamentary commission, including opposition party members, to review the 1990 constitution. The draft document that was released for public debate after the municipal elections envisaged not only a strengthening of the national legislature's powers, but also the devolution of power to the local authorities. In general, the drafters aimed at a more meaningful role for the opposition parties, especially the opposition leader, and made provision for the creation of an advisory body to the president, including members of the opposition and civil society. It was expected, in early 1999, that the debates on the constitutional amendments and changes to the Electoral Act will dominate the early stages of the run-up to the 1999 elections.