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Mozambique goes to polls amid unrest

Voters to choose mayors and local assembly members against a backdrop of violence blamed on ex-rebel group Renamo.

Last updated: 21 Nov 2013 06:03
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Mozambicans are casting their ballots in local elections amid fears that a former rebel group that has threatened to resume an armed rebellion against the government may disrupt the vote.

Wednesday's elections, in which voters are to choose mayors and local assembly members in 53 municipalities, pits the ruling Frelimo against Renamo, in opposition since the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

Presidential elections are planned for October 2014.

Renamo denied allegations it was planning to disrupt the vote after months of deadly clashes between supporters and government forces.

"Renamo is not a party of violence. We as Renamo party never sat down to plan any kind of violence," a spokesman for the party, Fernando Mazanga, told the AFP news agency on the eve of the vote. 

Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa reports from Beira

Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from the port city of Beira, an opposition stronghold, said people were also concerned about vote rigging.

"They [voters] are not concerned about the actual voting process. People have come out in huge numbers to vote. Their concern is the counting [of the votes]," she said, adding that some had vowed to spend the night at polling stations and see how ballots are tallied.

Political analysts say that Frelimo would want to take back Beira "as it is strategic militarily", said our correspondent.

Since late October the party's former fighters have been waging a low-level rebellion against government forces in the central province of Sofala.

The attacks intensified in late October after government forces overran the former military command for Afonso Dhlakama, the Renamo leader who fought the government in a civil which ended in 1992 after a peace agreement.

Poll boycott

Renamo, which takes its name from a Portuguese acronym like Frelimo, has not registered for Wednesday's polls saying the election laws must first be overhauled to ensure it has equal representation on election bodies.

Over the past year, Renamo repeatedly pledged to stop elections going ahead, but when asked whether people would vote without fear of violence, Mazanga alleged that "other political or social forces" could take action.

"This cannot be attributed to Renamo," he said.

"If it [the election] goes well or it goes badly, it is not the responsibility of Renamo."

Voters in the district worst affected by recent fighting between government forces and Renamo rebels said they feared leaving home to cast their ballots.

"We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. I think I will be home, I won't try to put my health in doubt,” a resident of Gorongosa village, Joao Rosario told AFP on Tuesday. 

The village is just 30km from Satunjira, where Dhlakama's base is based.

Many of Dhlakama's fighters fled into nearby mountains and the former guerrilla leader's whereabouts are unknown, adding to the climate of uncertainty.

"Renamo is up there. Perhaps they will come and disturb the elections," Rosario said.

Election authorities have vowed to go ahead with the polls, which are seen as a crucial indicator of the ruling, Frelimo party's grip on power.

"No one knows what will happen," Lucas Jose, election spokesman, told AFP.

"At any moment they could attack but we have the obligation to open the voting stations."

In 2008 Frelimo won all but one municipality. With Renamo boycotting these polls, opposition group, the Mozambique Democratic Movement, MDM [which already controls two towns] wants to collect the spoils, and plans to field candidates in all 53 municipalities.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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