Maputo, Mozambique – Polls opened across Mozambique on Tuesday, with 13 million voters registered to cast ballots in presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections seen as key to consolidating peace in the southern African nation.
A ceasefire was signed in August between the government and the opposition Renamo rebels after years of skirmishes following a civil war, and acceptance of the election results is a key test of the agreement.
The ruling Frelimo party, which has governed since Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975, is expected to be returned to power and President Felipe Nyusi, who voted as polls opened, is expected to win a second term in a vote where insecurity and political tensions might keep some people from the polls.
Renamo’s candidate and new leader Ossufo Momade is expected to benefit from Renamo’s popularity, particularly in the countryside. Also seeking the presidency is opposition MDM candidate Daviz Simango, who is mayor of Beira city, which suffered badly in the devastating Cyclone Idai earlier this year.
The southern African nation of nearly 30 million people on the Indian Ocean was hit by Idai and, weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth, raising fears about what climate change would bring to the country’s sprawling coastline in the decades to come.
Insecurity also poses a threat. At least 10 polling centers were not opening in northernmost Cabo Delgado province as Mozambique’s election authority said it cannot guarantee safety from attacks by shadowy Islamic extremists. That means some 5,400 people will not be able to vote.
More than 400 people have been killed by the insurgents over the past two years.
Vote counting will start after polls close at 6 p.m. local time and preliminary results are expected Wednesday, with full provisional results before the end of the week.
A runoff will be held if no presidential candidate wins a majority of the vote.
For the first time Mozambicans are also electing provincial governors, a key concession to Renamo. Previously all governors were appointed by the ruling party.
In 10 of the country’s 11 provinces, the governor will be the lead candidate of the party or list which wins the most votes in the provincial assembly election. Maputo, the 11th province and the capital, is both a city and a province and it was decided not to add a governor to the elected mayor.
However, Frelimo has established a new management layer, a provincial secretary of state, which will be appointed by the president and take on many of the powers that governors have had up to now.