Maputo (Mozambique) — Polls have closed across Mozambique for presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections seen as a test of a recent peace deal between the ruling party and the armed opposition.
Nearly 13 million voters are registered in the southern African nation, though some observers warn that insecurity might keep some from voting.
Vote counting started after polls closed at 6pm local time and was expected to continue through the night. Preliminary results are expected today.
Tensions were high in Mozambique on the eve of elections which will likely see President Filipe Nyusi and his ruling Frelimo party maintain their grip on power amid fears the violence that marred the campaign may continue on polling day.
While Nyusi is widely expected to win a second term in yesterday’s presidential vote, the main opposition is eyeing the opportunity for a strong performance in provincial and legislative races. The polls mark the first time provincial governors, previously appointed by the president, are elected in Mozambique
According to local NGO The Centre for Public Integrity, 44 people were killed during the election campaign — most in road accidents and some in a stadium stampede at a pro-Nyusi rally, but seven were murdered.
The United States Embassy warned on Friday of “credible threats” of violence in Nampula, advising US citizens to avoid the northern city. A travel advisory was also issued for Xai-Xai, the capital of Gaza province, where this month the head of local election observation efforts, Anastacio Matavel, was shot dead by a group of special operations police.
“We’ve never had free and fair elections, but these are the worst yet because of the gravity of the violence,” said Alice Mabota, a veteran human rights campaigner. Mabota was running as an independent, backed by the new Democratic Alliance Coalition, but her candidacy was blocked over allegations that some of her nomination signatures were fake.
Nampula, the country’s biggest city outside of the capital, Maputo, and the adjoining city of Matola, are run at the municipal level by the main opposition Renamo party.
Renamo leader Ossufo Momade is the favourite to win the governorship in Nampula province — such a result will see Momade becoming the first provincial governor from a party other than Frelimo, which has been in power since Mozambique won independence from Portugal in 1975.
But he will not be as powerful as governors have been up to now, as the president will appoint a secretary of state to work alongside the elected governor as the central government’s representative in the province — taking many of the most important powers that governors currently have.
If Momade is satisfied with winning the governorship of Nampula, many of Renamo’s supporters will want more — and his rallies, particularly in northern and central Mozambique, have been attracting impressive crowds, according to Adriano Nuvunga, of the Centre for Democracy and Development in Maputo. —Al Jazeera