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Mozambique: October 9

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The presidential and legislative elections in Mozambique in 2024 are defined by the ruling Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) party’s growing sense of entitlement and impunity.

Municipal elections in October 2023 provide a glimpse into what to expect. The National Election Commission declared that FRELIMO had won 64 of the 65 contests, even sweeping areas known to be Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO) party strongholds. Parallel vote counts by a consortium of independent election observers, led by the Catholic Church, showed RENAMO winning a handful municipalities including, for the first time, Maputo.

Protests in RENAMO strongholds were met with a heavy-handed police response resulting in at least four deaths. Police raided RENAMO headquarters in Maputo, arresting dozens of supporters.

RENAMO’s appeal to the courts resulted in a dozen district courts annulling some election results and calling for a recount or redo in others. However, these judgments were overturned by the FRELIMO-appointed Constitutional Council, which ruled that the lower courts did not have jurisdiction to annul or order election recounts. Eventually, the Constitutional Council determined that FRELIMO won 56 municipalities, RENAMO had won 4 (down from its previous 8), and the Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM) party won 1. A revote was to be held in four other municipalities.

Mozambique’s multiparty system is increasingly one in name only.

The municipal elections highlight that Mozambique’s multiparty system is increasingly one in name only. FRELIMO has evidently calculated that it can effect blatant electoral manipulation with few repercussions from its domestic or international stakeholders.

The 2019 presidential elections were similarly marked by credible reports of ballot box stuffing, intimidation of election observers, serious discrepancies in vote registers, and tabulation irregularities. The National Election Commission declared President Filipe Nyusi the winner with an improbable 73 percent of the vote. Civil society and international observers characterized the elections the least fair since the return to multiparty elections in 1994. A European Union Election Follow-up Mission in 2022 found there had been little to no progress in implementing any of the 20 recommendations issued following the problematic 2019 elections.

The 2019 legislative elections enabled FRELIMO to increase its majority in the 250-seat Assembly of the Republic from 144 seats to 184 seats—at the expense of RENAMO and MDM. FRELIMO similarly elected all 10 of the provincial governors.

Such is the political environment in which the 2024 elections take place.

FRELIMO has dominated Mozambican politics since the return of multiparty elections in 1994, following the devastating 15-year civil war with RENAMO that resulted in an estimated 1 million deaths.

As RENAMO transformed itself into a political party, it gained 45 and 47 percent of parliamentary seats in the 1994 and 1999 elections, respectively, before seeing this drop down to 20 percent by 2009. RENAMO accused FRELIMO of manipulating election results, which set off a low-intensity conflict between 2011-2016, only coming to an end after another peace deal in 2019.

Mozambique Police forces are seen stationing in front of the Technical Secretariat of Electoral Administration

Mozambique Police forces stationed in front of the Technical Secretariat of Electoral Administration building as supporters of the Mozambican opposition party Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) demonstrate to denounce fraud in the municipal elections in Maputo on October 17, 2023. (Photo: AFP/Alfredo Zuniga)

FRELIMO’s brazenness to engineer lopsided electoral outcomes apparently reflects its sense of entitlement to rule Mozambique in perpetuity. This is an attitude observed by other liberation parties in southern and eastern Africa, exhibited in recent elections in Zimbabwe and Uganda. It also reinforces an effort to normalize dominant party systems in Africa, following the model of China’s Communist Party.

The lack of a competitive multiparty system eliminates a central element of democratic self-correction. It also fosters a sense of impunity on the part of FRELIMO, developed from years of controlling all major state institutions, that it can effectively do whatever it wants with little risk of losing power. This has contributed to Mozambique’s persistent underperformance in recent years.

Mozambicans have seen stagnant levels of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita over the past decade despite bountiful natural resource revenues. The economy has been hampered by persistent high-level corruption, seen most clearly with the $2-billion “tuna bond” scandal that led to Mozambique defaulting on its sovereign debt. The fraud is estimated to have cost the country $11 billion, the equivalent of its annual GDP.

This underperformance and lack of accountability is also seen in Mozambique’s inability to provide security for its citizens in the face of a militant Islamist insurgency that swept out of Cabo Delgado in 2017. This threat ultimately required the intervention of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Rwandan forces. Mozambican forces in Cabo Delgado face high levels of distrust and a reputation for abduction for ransom, extortion, and theft of property.

The dominant party model fosters limited political will to pursue reforms.

The dominant party model fosters limited political will to pursue reforms to improve livelihoods for citizens. This is amplified by party control of state media that obscures objective analysis of policies. Press freedom in Mozambique has been declining in recent years. Investigative journalists that are too persistent in exposing corruption are intimidated, detained, and some have met untimely deaths. The absence of a vibrant media negates the educational and galvanizing role that the press can play in pursuing reforms.

A governance model that systematically disenfranchises citizens while leaving little legal recourse, can only increase prospects for instability—with devastating effects for the country and long-lasting implications for the region.

Despite the lopsided playing field, RENAMO intends to contest the 2024 presidential and legislative elections across the country. Its standard-bearer will likely be Ossufo Momade who took over the party leadership in 2018, following the passing of longtime RENAMO leader, Afonso Dhlakama. However, the party may select Quelimane’s mayor, Manuel de Araújo, or Maputo mayoral candidate Venâcino Mondlane (who won that race according to parallel vote tabulation results)—both dynamic candidates—to draw more support to the party.

FRELIMO has yet to name its presidential candidate. President Nyusi is term limited and cannot contest, though he is rumored to have seriously considered doing so. His preferred successor is Carlos Ismael Correia, who is seen as a politician who would maintain continuity in FRELIMO policies.

More important than the candidates in many ways will be the efforts of civil society actors who continue to champion reforms—for electoral integrity, media independence, and transparency of public finances. Given the highly uneven electoral playing field, their rate of progress may be the most revealing barometer of Mozambique’s 2024 elections. As one of the most respected institutions in the country, the Catholic Church will continue to play a vital role in serving as some form of moral conscience and source of accountability for public officials. Once again, its parallel vote tabulation efforts will be indispensable for discerning genuine voter preferences—making credibility the keyword to watch in these elections.