Mozambicans go to the polls

MozambiqueMaputo – Mozambique’s upstart opposition has vowed to take on the two traditional political heavyweights by offering a non-violent alternative in polls taking place this week amid low-level conflict.
While the ruling Frelimo party and its main opposition rival Renamo have been at each other’s throats during an insurgency that lasted nearly two years, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) has been quietly focusing on growing its support base.

“We’re different from the others, first of all we don’t have the armed tradition,” MDM leader Daviz Simango said.

“MDM is growing fast and a lot of people are surprised.”

The party has mayors in four cities, most wrested from the ruling party in key municipal polls last year.

“It’s easier for us to run the country,” said the leader of the party formed just over five years ago.

But he is concerned that defeat in today’s election for either of his rivals could spell trouble.

“The question is if one of them loses the election are they going to accept the decision?” said Simango. “I’m worried . . . because we need to keep peace,” to develop the country.

He pointed out that the disarmament plan agreed to in a recent peace pact was yet to be implemented.

Analysts believe the MDM could change the political landscape in this nascent energy producer dominated for decades by Frelimo and Renamo, the two sides that fought each other in a 16-year civil war.

The economy of the southern African country grew an annual average of seven percent over the past decade and foreign investors are scrambling for a slice of its coal and gas resources.

Despite its booming economy, it is estimated that half of Mozambicans live on under a dollar a day.

Simango has been mayor of the second biggest city, Beira, for over a decade – first for Renamo and later as an independent before forming the MDM.

He fashions himself a man of the people, whose no frills door-to-door campaign has won hearts and minds among Mozambique’s poorest.

“Where the people are we’re there,” said the softly spoken mayor. “We’re taking supporters from Frelimo, we’re taking supporters from Renamo.”

He said “people aren’t happy with Frelimo [because] a lot of things aren’t happening… the poverty is still there.

“The government says they are trying to bring down poverty but we still have a small portion of people becoming very rich,” said Simango.

He said his party would push for reforms that would dilute the powers of the president. It also wants to see the more opposition lawmakers in what has thitherto been a largely rubber-stamping parliament.

In the outgoing 250-seat parliament, Frelimo has 191 seats, compared to Renamo’s 51 and MDM’s eight.

“The president has a lot of power,” Simango said. “We need to separate the political power from the justice.”

He is a qualified civil engineer, whose father was one of the leaders of the independence Frelimo movement.

He says his parents were “executed” in a Frelimo purge.

At 50, Simango is the youngest of the three presidential candidates vying for the top job in elections due today.

Today’s elections will be the southern African country’s fifth since a 1992 peace agreement halted a 16-year civil war and ushered in the first democratic elections in 1994. – AFP

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