I have been told that there is usually a low voter turnout in municipal elections in Mozambique.
But a local journalist I am working with tells me he feels the numbers of people in line seem much higher. I am in Beira, the second biggest city and an opposition stronghold. I am heading to a polling station in the suburb of Munhava. Along the way, I pass schools turned into polling stations. Most aready have long lines of people waiting to cast their ballots.
I have to push my way to the front when I arrive the polling station. People are pushing and shoving, trying to get to the front to cast their votes. Someone pulls my hair and pushes me back in anger because she thinks I am trying to cut in front of everyone else. Everyone else starts shouting in Portuguese. After I show my press card, I am let through.
I am sure I will have a headache by the time I am done here.
People are voting to elect mayors and local assembly members in 53 municipalities. In 2008, the ruling Frelimo party won all but one municipality. They lost here in Beira. If they lose more elsewhere in the country, it could put pressure on them to create more jobs and fight poverty. Presidential elections are next year.
But the opposition party, Renamo, is boycotting. They say the country’s electoral laws favour Frelimo.
With Renamo not running in these local elections, opposition supporters could vote for the Mozambique Democratic Movement. Its leader, Daviz Simango, broke away from Renamo and formed the MDM in 2009.
One voter tells me he will vote for anyone but Frelimo. His concern is vote-rigging. He believes Frelimo need Beira back so they can better plan an offensive against Renamo. And Frelimo has supporters here. I went to a rally that was well-attended.
Many opposition supporters say they will sleep outside the polling station – their way of trying to stop vote rigging.
‘We can’t go to war’
And that’s not the only concern. They’re here despite things being tense in this part of the country – Sofala province.
Since late October, the military wing of Renamo, has been fighting a low-level insurgency against government forces. I know first-hand of the violence happening in the rural areas. I was part of a convoy of vehicles travelling on the main highway being escorted by the army because its dangerous. People have been ambushed and the government says it’s Renamo, an allegation that’s been refuted.
Our convoy was shot at by people firing from the bush. I saw villages that have been abandoned because people are scared to live there.
A woman sits next to me under a tree at the polling station. It’s hot and humid. She is excited becase she has just voted.
“I voted for water, houses, schools – for our children,” she tells me. “But I also want peace. We can’t go to war.”
It’s true. Most people I have met in Mozambique want the government to come to a political agreement with Renamo, its former civil war enemy.
How long that will take and if people will be happy with the results of this election is anyone’s guess right now.
A group of opposition supporters have warned there will be violence if Frelimo wins and retakes Beira.
I wonder how serious they are.