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article imagePolls close in closely-fought Mozambique vote

By Susan Njanji, Jinty Jackson (AFP)     Oct 14, 2014 in World

Mozambicans voted Wednesday in a tough electoral test for the ruling Frelimo party, which has run the southern African country since independence from Portugal in 1975.

Frelimo is facing growing discontent over a wealth gap that persists despite huge mineral resources, with fast economic growth sidestepping the bulk of a population that is among the world's poorest.

"I want change. I want to see development. We need jobs and new schools," said first-time voter Otavio do Santos, who cast his ballot at a makeshift polling station in the low-income neighbourhood of Xipamanine in the capital Maputo.

His sentiments were echoed by young people at other polling stations. But despite poverty and unemployment, many said they were sticking with the ruling party.

Mozambique
Mozambique
S. Ramis/P. Defosseux, pld/dmk/jfs, AFP

"Maybe they (Frelimo) won't change anything for us... but I am from this party, you can't change your mother can you?" Amelia Makave told AFP at Xipamanine.

Polling closed at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) after 11 hours of voting.

Incumbent President Armando Guebuza, from Frelimo, is prohibited by the constitution from running for a third term.

So the presidential race pits Frelimo's Filipe Nyusi, the former defence minister, against the veteran leader of former rebel group Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama, and Daviz Simango, founder of the Mozambique Democratic Party (MDM).

"I am convinced of a victory," 55-year-old Nyusi told reporters after casting his ballot. "We have worked for a long time, very hard to prepare for this election."

Mozambican Resistance Movement (RENAMO) presidential candidate Afonso Dhlakama (C) addresses support...
Mozambican Resistance Movement (RENAMO) presidential candidate Afonso Dhlakama (C) addresses supporters during a motorcade campaign rally on October 11, 2014 in Maputo
Gianluigi Guercia, AFP/File

Dhlakama, 61, who voted at the same polling station, has cried foul each time he lost in previous elections. But he expressed hope that this vote would be free and fair.

"Results will be accepted when they are clean. As you know on the African continent, results are often not clean," he said.

"We hope for the first time in Mozambique results will be acceptable, proper and with credibility. I believe this."

The government amended election laws earlier this year as part of peace negotiations with Renamo, which demanded that the opposition be given greater control over the electoral process in a bid to improve transparency.

Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO) presidential candidate Filipe Nyusi addresses a cheering crowd...
Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO) presidential candidate Filipe Nyusi addresses a cheering crowd of supporters during the FRELIMO final presidential and legislative campaign rally on October 12, 2014 on the outskirts of Maputo
Gianluigi Guercia, AFP/File

But opposition parties claimed that their accredited agents were not being let in to observe the polls in parts of the country.

"There is a systematic prohibition of our representatives to observe this process," MDM spokesman Sande Carmona told AFP.

But both foreign and local observers said voting had generally been orderly and peaceful.

Mozambicans "voted for peace, in a very peaceful, calm ...(and) efficient" manner, said South African Foreign Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is heading an observer mission from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Mozambican Electoral Commission workers load election kits containing ballot boxes and voting materi...
Mozambican Electoral Commission workers load election kits containing ballot boxes and voting material to be shipped out to the countryside on October 13, 2014 at a wharehouse in Maputo, Mozambique
Gianluigi Guercia, AFP

The third presidential hopeful, 50-year-old Simango, voted in the second largest city Beira, where he is the mayor.

Voter surveys cannot be published in Mozambique, but judging from the turnout at some campaign rallies, Frelimo could be in for a shock.

The party's glitzy final rally in its southern fiefdom of Maputo failed to attract a capacity crowd.

- 'Opportunity for Renamo' -

Twenty-seven parties are competing for the favour of 10.9 million registered voters in the presidential race, plus polls for national and provincial assemblies.

People wait to cast their ballots at a voting station in Maputo on October 15  2014
People wait to cast their ballots at a voting station in Maputo on October 15, 2014
Gianluigi Guercia, AFP

Analysts say that while Frelimo is expected to win the election, the opposition is likely to make significant inroads, reducing the ruling party's overwhelming majority of 75 percent from the last vote.

Renamo, which has lost all elections since the end of the country's 16-year civil war in 1992, has made a comeback, trying to spruce up its image after emerging from a low-level insurgency waged in the centre of the country just weeks ahead of the election.

"The recent (September 5) peace agreement is an opportunity for Renamo," said Nelson Alusala, a researcher with the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies.

"Mozambicans may be attracted to Renamo for the simple reason of wanting change," he said.

At the same time the fledgling MDM is gaining popularity.

Formed five years ago, the MDM gained around 40 percent of the vote in Maputo in municipal elections last December.

If none of the three garners more than 50 percent of Wednesday's vote, a run-off will be held within 30 days after official final results which are expected in two weeks.

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