January 14, 2005

Appeals from minor parties rejected / Commonwealth calls for ‘fundamental electoral reform’

Mozambique's Constitutional Council has rejected appeals against the results of the December general elections from three minor opposition forces. A member of the Constitutional Council, Teodato Hunguana, told that the Independent Party of Mozambique (PIMO), the Movement for Change and Good Governance (MBG), and the Enlarged Opposition Front (FAO) had all called for the annulment of the elections, and the Council rejected this call. The Council has yet to take a decision on the protest by the main opposition force, the Renamo-Electoral Union coalition. Some of Renamo's most serious complaints have also been raised by observers and journalists: there is, for instance, the accusation that serious fraud took place at a minority of polling stations, particularly in the western province of Tete, where impossibly high turn-outs (sometimes in excess of 100 per cent) were reported. Renamo also complained that almost 1.400 polling station results sheets ("editais"), about five per cent of the total, were not included in the final results. CNE spokesman Filipe Mandlate conceded this point - he said that many of these editais had been stolen and so never reached Maputo.

In the meantime, the Commonwealth has recommended "fundamental electoral reform", particularly that political parties be removed from the electoral bodies, and that all aspects of the electoral process be thrown open to observers. These are key conclusions of a highly critical report on the Mozambican vote tabulation, following the 1-2 December general elections, from a Commonwealth Expert Team, headed by Elijah Rabvuta, the Executive Director of Zambia's Foundation for Democratic Process, which remained in the country after the main body of Commonwealth observers had left. The Team's report criticised inadequate access to critical moments of the vote tabulation. It noted that, like all the other observers, the Commonwealth team was "not given full access to the national counting centre at CNE (National Elections Commission) headquarters. We were only allowed to see the operators entering the information on the editais into the computers through a glass screen. We were also only able to access the returns from the various polling stations through a computer terminal in an adjoining room, and thus theoretically it was possible to check the accuracy of the aggregation process and investigate allegations of fraudulent editais". "However, the lack of full access created an atmosphere of secrecy and mistrust about the whole process", the report pointed out.

At the end of the tabulation, the CNE reconciled any differences between provincial counts and its own "provisional count" at the Maputo headquarters - but "observers were not allowed to be present to observe the meeting where those decisions were finalised", the Commonwealth team remarked. The Commonwealth also found that, despite requests to the CNE, observers were kept out of the CNE sessions that considered rejected editais. "We were concerned that this was detrimental to perceptions of the credibility of the electoral process", the team said. "We feel strongly that this aspect constitutes a very significant part of the process, capable of having an overbearing effect on the outcome of the elections", the report continued. "As such it would be important for the CNE to show more transparency, if any suspicions and tension on the part of key players is to be averted". "In view of full access being denied, we requested that the CNE publish the list of all the rejected editais along with the reasons for each rejection", it added. "We were assured that this would be done simultaneously with the announcement of the results". But the results were announced on 21 December and nothing was said about rejected editais.

Although, in general, the country had come to terms with the victory of Frelimo and its presidential candidate, Armando Guebuza, "there was widespread recognition that fundamental electoral reforms would be necessary if the credibility of future elections is not to suffer". In the view of the Commonwealth team, the key reform must be to establish genuinely independent electoral bodies. As for the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), the executive structure of the CNE, this too should have no political appointees (currently there are Frelimo and Renamo appointees at all levels of STAE - district, provincial and national). STAE, the Commonwealth report says, should be staffed "by independent, professionally appointed personnel". (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, Maputo)

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