September 21, 2002

MOZAMBIQUE: Assembly passes Election Bills unanimously

The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Friday night (September 20), at the end of an extraordinary sitting, passed unanimously a set of electoral laws, after the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union abandoned all the demands that it had been making for the previous two years.

Earlier in the day, the situation had looked hopeless. The divergences seemed as deep as ever over how to carry out voter registration, on how the National Elections Commission (CNE) should take its decisions, and on whether the executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), should be exclusively staffed with political appointees.

But a shift in Renamo's position became evident at about 16 hrs. By then a moderate opposition deputy, Maximo Dias, suddenly announced that Renamo was prepared to make one final attempt to reach agreement on all the points in dispute. Despite Frelimo's concerns, negotiations resumed - and to the surprise of observers, Renamo capitulated. On all the major points, Renamo dropped its amendments.

Later Dias told AIM he had been in contact with Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama who gave the green light for the dramatic change in Renamo posture. Moderates such as Dias were finally able to convince the more intransigent members of the Renamo parliamentary group that there was nothing to be gained from clinging onto positions that Frelimo would never accept.

Indeed, there was much that could be lost. For during the past two years of negotiations in an ad-hoc commission reviewing the electoral legislation, Renamo had won several victories. Thus Frelimo reluctantly conceded Renamo's calls for larger electoral commissions. Frelimo has always been in favour of a relatively small CNE - but the ad-hoc commission agreed to expand the CNE from 17 to 19 members (Frelimo had wanted no more than 13), and to deprive the government of voting CNE members. The ad-hoc commission also expanded each of the provincial elections commissions from seven to nine members, again knocking out government representation. As for district commissions, the ad-hoc commission reached no firm conclusion but agreed to at least seven members (there were only six in the 1999 commissions). For Frelimo, which had once argued (in 1997-98) that provincial and district commissions were redundant and useless bodies, this was a major concession.

For Renamo, the larger the commissions, the more jobs there are to be distributed among Renamo members. Since each commission member is paid, the commissions become important as a form of patronage. Moderates such as Dias warned Renamo hard-liners that they were in danger of returning to square one. If they insisted on all or nothing, they would end up with nothing - or, to be more precise, the 2003 local elections, and quite possibly the 2004 general elections, would be fought on the existing legislation, unamended.

Dhlakama's role was probably crucial. Other opposition members told AIM that Dhlakama had been consulted. One said "the decision was taken by the parliamentary group, and Dhlakama consented". Thus Renamo withdrew its demand for re-registration of the entire electorate (something which, only 24 hours previously, some Renamo members had told AIM they would "never" retreat from). Instead, the existing registers, which were computerised after the 1999 general elections, will be updated every year. This represents a saving of at least 10 million US dollars. Renamo also abandoned its insistence that all decisions by electoral bodies should be taken either unanimously, or by a two thirds majority. Now, in the likely event of lack of consensus, decisions will be taken by simple majority vote.

This includes the first decision of all - who should chair the CNE? The chairman will be an independent figure proposed by civil society organisations. Should there be more than one candidate, and lack of consensus among the other 18 CNE members (ten appointed by Frelimo and eight by Renamo), a simple majority vote will solve the matter. The only significant change over the previous Frelimo proposal is that such votes will be by secret ballot.

Renamo had even wanted decisions over protests and doubts at the polling stations resolved by a two thirds majority among the polling station staff. Frelimo warned that this was a recipe for paralysis. In the revised bill decisions will be taken by simple majority, and in the event of a tie, the polling station chairperson will have a casting votes. Appeals can be made to the relevant electoral commission. As for STAE, Renamo abandoned its attempt to politicise from top to bottom this body, which is the electoral wing of the civil service. The principle is now accepted that STAE is a neutral body, staffed by civil servants appointed on the basis of merit. But during electoral periods, the STAE general director will be assisted by two deputies, one appointed by Frelimo and one by Renamo. Other political appointees chosen by the parliamentary parties will be drafted into STAE 45 days prior to the elections, and will leave 45 days after the results have been announced. But the bill may have stored up problems for the future by not specifying how many such appointees will be employed by STAE.

Only one significant concession was made to Renamo during these final negotiations - the district and city electoral commissions will now be the same size as the provincial ones, consisting of nine members. There are 148 districts and cities, and 11 provinces. So these commissions, plus the CNE itself, will have a total of 1,450 members, all of whom will expect to be paid out of the public purse. The path is now clear to prepare updating the electoral registers, and to hold the municipal elections in mid- 2003. (AIM)

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