Unrest set to worsen as Mozambique awaits verification of election results

President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique

On 4 November, Renamo mayoral candidate for Maputo, Venancio Mondlane, declared that the opposition party’s demonstrations protesting the outcome of the 11 October municipal elections would intensify should the Constitutional Council uphold the results. Renamo has led a series of protests since 16 October after the National Elections Commission (CNE) began releasing the initial election results showing that the ruling Frelimo party was on track to win nearly every municipal election. The CNE confirmed these results on 26 October, declaring that Frelimo had won control of 64 of Mozambique’s 65 municipalities with only the port city of Beira – which was won by the country’s third-largest party, the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM) – remaining in opposition hands. The results have been submitted to the Constitutional Council to be authenticated.

Notably, the CNE declared the final results despite allegations of widespread fraud and malfeasance impacting elections across the country. In fact, between 15 and 26 October,1 several courts ordered electoral recounts after finding clear irregularities such as CNE officials using fraudulent tabulation forms to report results at some counting stations in Maputo and Matola.

The independent watchdog, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), on 16 October, released a statement detailing that its observers had witnessed widespread irregularities in multiple municipalities. These included security forces banning observers from vote-counting stations, ballot box stuffing, intimidation, and even removing ballot boxes to undeclared sites rather than the official counting stations. CIP also released the findings of its parallel vote count which it conducted during the election. According to the CIP, Renamo actually won the majority of votes in at least seven municipalities including Maputo and the neighbouring urban centre of Matola. Yet, the CNE’s vote tallies differed starkly from the CIP’s count as well as from historic voting patterns in Renamo’s strongholds such as Nampula and Quelimane where Frelimo also managed to secure victory. Underscoring the validity of Renamo’s allegations and the CIP’s findings, the Constitutional Council found on 31 October that Renamo had provided it with sufficient evidence of ballot box tampering in Quelimane at least.

However, despite the multiple concerns and allegations raised by independent observers, the Constitutional Council is still expected to uphold the election results. Mozambique’s apex court rarely openly rules against the Frelimo-led government and ordering a rerun of the compromised election would be a radical declaration of independence by the court. Further, any election rerun would still be managed by the CNE, which is no longer trusted by opposition parties.

If the Constitutional Council upholds the results, opposition protests are expected to intensify. The worst of this unrest is expected to take place in Maputo and Matola as well as other cities with strong Renamo support such as Quelimane, Nampula, and Chiure. The potential intensifying of these protests is worrying as at least seven people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces in recent weeks. As per usual, Mozambican authorities have had a heavy-handed response to these demonstrations which has exacerbated the situation.

These protests have been fuelled by a sense of outrage at the apparent brazenness with which the election was allegedly stolen. This has been further compounded by the wider growing social discontent within Mozambican society over corruption and poor governance in the country. Mondlane’s ability to mobilise support in former Frelimo strongholds like Maputo and Matola is evidence of this frustration, especially among the youth. The fact that these frustrated citizens feel that their vote has been discounted has helped drive the widespread protests.

It should be noted that the fallout from these elections will not be confined to street-level unrest. The perception that the CNE conspired to help Frelimo rig the municipal elections has undermined faith in Mozambique’s electoral system – especially among opposition voters. This will mean that it is less likely that voters – and opposition parties – will believe that the 9 October 2024 general election will be free and fair, weakening the perceived legitimacy of that essential vote.

Renamo’s current leaders are under pressure to secure some form of concession from the state. The party ended its latest insurgency in 2018 and signed the 2019 peace accords on the basis that it could win at least partial political power through the ballot box. While some of the decentralisation reforms mandated by the peace agreement have been passed, Renamo has been increasingly shut out from election power through elections that have fallen short of any measure of freeness, fairness, or transparency. The party is unlikely to return to waging an insurgency given that its guerilla forces have completed the demobilisation and disarming process. However, the party can try to pursue a campaign of civil disobedience and unrest to force the government to ensure a more equitable election process in 2024. Failure to do so poses an existential threat to the party as it will dramatically lose support if it is seen as so easily outmanoeuvred and sidelined by the government.

Executive Research Associates

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