Mozambicans have started voting for a new president, parliament and provincial assemblies in elections seen as the toughest test yet for the ruling Frelimo party that has been in power for almost 40 years.
Polls opened at 05:00 GMT on Wednesday with 10.9 million people registered to vote for 27 parties and two coalition groups.
Analysts say that while Frelimo is expected to win the election, the opposition is likely to make significant inroads, reducing the party’s overwhelming majority of 75 percent garnered in the last vote.
The opposition ballots are likely to be split between the former rebel Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) and its breakaway Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM).
The presidential race pits Frelimo’s Filipe Nyusi, the former defence minister who is making his first bid for the country’s top job, against Renamo’s veteran Afonso Dhlakama and MDM founder Daviz Simango.
If none of the three garners more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off will be held within 30 days after official final results.
Call for change
A desire for change has been driven by 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.
Renamo, which has lost all elections since the end of the country’s 15-year civil war in 1992, has made something of a comeback, trying to spruce up its image after emerging from a low-level violent campaign waged in the centre of the country just weeks ahead of the election.
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.
Parties have the right to nominate staff and observers at polling stations and have more members sitting on the electoral commission.
Official results are expected 15 days after polling.