Thursday, October 29, 2009




MAPUTO, Mozambique
Presidential and parliamentary elections Wednesday are expected to hand another victory to President Armando Guebuza and Mozambique's party of former freedom fighters, underscoring the weight that liberation politics still carries in southern Africa -- at times, some say, to the detriment of democratic development.

Mozambique hosted a calm, orderly vote, with no major irregularities noted by the time polls were closing for the day, according to preliminary findings by observers from the European Union. The mission won't release its final statement on the election until Friday.

Results aren't expected until Nov. 12. But nearly everyone seemed to accept the ruling party's win as a foregone conclusion. After casting his ballot early Wednesday, Mr. Guebuza tried to sound encouraging.

"Some people may think we've already won, so it's not worth going to vote," he told reporters. "But we hope they'll go and vote this time."

Some voters are hoping that this election will show signs of growing support, small though it may be, for a new opposition party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement, run by Daviz Simango, mayor of the city of Beira. In Mozambique, as elsewhere across southern Africa, reform parties are gradually gaining ground against liberation politics as a young, urban generation comes of age; it is more interested in good jobs than in old wars.

The struggle for independence in southern Africa was a bloody one. The racist regimes in South Africa, which controlled much of the region, and Rhodesia -- modern-day Zimbabwe -- brutalized the black populations, who formed guerrilla movements to oppose them. At independence, those movements were wildly popular. Today they still dominate the political scene in several southern African countries, including South Africa and Zimbabwe, raising concerns about government accountability and the strength of their multiparty democracies.

Mozambique's ruling party, the Liberation Front of Mozambique, known as Frelimo, led the freedom struggle and defended the country in a civil war. It has never lost a presidential election since multiparty elections were first held, in 1994. Its liberation credentials propelled it to power early on, and it has remained the party of choice for many Mozambicans ever since.

The official opposition party, Mozambican National Resistance, or Renamo, has suffered from an image problem: It fought Frelimo with support from apartheid South Africa during Mozambique's 16-year civil war. Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama said Wednesday that he wouldn't contest the results should he lose.

Much of Frelimo's success comes from its achievements. It rebuilt the country's infrastructure, destroyed in the war. The urban poor have better access to water and electricity. Mr. Guebuza has attracted more foreign investment to help exploit rich mineral and natural-gas resources. And it's the only party with a political record.

"We're used to Frelimo," said Catalina Machala, a 33-year-old mother selling bread on a Maputo street. "We don't see another party that can really be an alternative."

As with any group with a monopoly on power, there are questions about whether Frelimo is willing to relinquish it. During the campaign, local media and civil-society groups accused Frelimo of exerting influence on the electoral commission to exclude the Mozambique Democratic Movement party from some ballots. Mr. Simango's name was on the ballot nationwide as a presidential candidate, but his party was kept out of parliamentary races in many constituencies. Frelimo strongly denies the charge.

The electoral commission is nominally independent, but several board members have ties to Frelimo. "They may be political members casually, but they aren't chosen based on their political affiliation," said Juvenal Bucuane, the commission spokesman, who is also a Frelimo member. "They strictly look for what candidates can best serve [the commission]."

Frelimo's strength also has made it a dominant force in private life, many Mozambicans say. It can be difficult to secure career or business opportunities without ties to Frelimo, a trend that has increased under Mr. Guebuza, many people say.

"That is absolutely false," said Edson Macuácua, Frelimo's secretary for mobilization and propaganda. "This is speech that comes from [the opposition's] political despair."

Still, analysts say that in another decade, liberation politics may be forced to make way for new ideas. Even South Africa's venerated African National Congress was forced to campaign harder for votes this year.

"I voted for change," said Nelfa Cakat, a 26-year-old secretary at a private company in Maputo, who said she voted for Mr. Simango. "[Frelimo] has been in power for 30 years. I was listening to Simango's speech, and it wasn't a speech about the war. There's hope in what he's saying."