Vote counting has begun in Mozambique after key parliamentary, presidential and provincial elections that President Filipe Nyusi said should help anchor peace in the southern African nation.
Acceptance of the results of Tuesday’s elections are seen as a key test of a peace deal signed in August between the ruling Frelimo party and its old civil-war-foe-turned-political-rival, Renamo.
The ceasefire agreement brought a formal end to hostilities, almost three decades after the end of a 15-year civil war that killed an estimated one million people.
Voting proceeded relatively smoothly across the country on Tuesday, but security fears kept some people from the polls while scattered incidents of ballot-stuffing were reported. Observers in several provinces also said they were restricted from doing their work.
The elections are widely expected to extend Frelimo’s decades-long rule over Mozambique, and Nyusi is all but certain to be re-elected for a second term.
But the peace deal has given Renamo hope of winning more political power in a country dominated by Frelimo since its independence from Portugal in 1975.
“Mozambique has chosen peace,” Nyusi said after casting his ballot at a school in the capital, Maputo.
He praised Mozambicans for deciding their destiny in elections and called for peace and calm to continue.
His rival, Ossufo Momade, meanwhile warned against any fraud. “If [the vote] is manipulated, we will never accept it,” the Renamo presidential candidate said.
“We have to do whatever we can do, if the people want us to,” he said, without elaborating on the warning.
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.
An estimated 13 million people are registered to vote in the nation of nearly 30 million.
Carlos Alberto, a 22-year-old student waiting to vote at a secondary school in Maputo said he wanted to see Parliament hold the executive to account and push through promised reforms in education, work, housing and other areas.
“We vote and then nothing happens … We need to make some changes,” he said.
The local Center for Public Integrity noted incidents of pre-marked ballots and late-opening voting centres, but the centre and a collection of non-governmental organisations said that in general polls opened normally across the country.
The exception was in the northeastern Cabo Delgado province, where the electoral commission said seven polling stations did not open because of insecurity.
The government has been fighting armed groups in the area for the last two years in a conflict which has displaced 60,000 people, according to the United Nations.
A day before the vote, Human Rights Watch said authorities in Mozambique had “failed thousands of people” by declining to make clear whether and how displaced people would be able to participate in the election.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Maputo, said it was “unknown how many of the displaced lost their voter cards and haven’t been able to replace them”.
Voter cards are one of several checks at polling stations intended to limit voter fraud. Citizens are required to hand over their voting card, show both hands for signs of ink used to mark those who have already voted, and have their name checked against the electoral register, he said.
This register has been disputed in the southern Gaza province, said Webb, where opposition and rights groups say 300,000 “ghost voters” were added to the list.
The electoral commission denies any foul play and insists it is running a free and fair election.
“There has also been more controversy over observers, with rights groups saying that 3,000 independent observers were not given accreditation at the polling stations and that the election lacks the transparency it should have as a result,” he added.
Tuesday’s vote was the first time Mozambicans were 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 – both city and a province – decided not to add a governor to the elected mayor.
The run-up to the vote was marked by sporadic violence, including the killing of an election observer and attacks from a breakaway group of Renamo fighters that killed one person.