The Mozambican ruling party, Frelimo, has voted to select Filipe Nyussi as its presidential candidate for the forthcoming elections of 15 October. Nyussi will likely be elected Mozambique’s next president, given the party’s dominance.
His appointment as the Frelimo presidential candidate ends months of uncertainty and is good news for the consolidation of the country’s democracy. Frelimo now has less than eight months to present its candidate to the electorate and to try to recover from a period of unpopularity.
There has been growing apprehension that a reversal of democratic progress was underway, born out of fear that the ruling party had become a vehicle to advance President Armando Guebuza’s political and private interests. Electoral violence in Beira and Quelimane during the municipal elections of October 2013 fed a perception that the ruling party was becoming more authoritarian and paranoid over any opposition. The decision by Frelimo’s Central Committee on 1 March to elect Filipe Nyussi as its presidential candidate should end its internal leadership contest, producing a more confident and less reactive party. Traditionally, the entire party unites around chosen candidates.
The choice of Nyussi has surprised many and disappointed some. Despite being minister of defence since 2008, he is relatively unknown among the electorate. He studied in Czechoslovakia, where he earned degree in mechanical engineering, and received a management degree from a UK university. At 55, he is not part of the Frelimo old guard of liberation fighters. Significantly, he is also a Makonde from the northern province of Cabo Delgado, the first time a Frelimo candidate is not from the south. He is perceived as a Guebuza follower, although whether he remains such after the presidential election remains to be seen.
Frelimo will stand against two other parties that may increase their share of parliamentary seats, although the opposition’s chances of taking the presidential election are slim. MDM (Movimento Democrático de Moçambique) and its current leader, Daviz Simango, will want to improve on their gains in the 2013 municipal elections, where they won four mayoral seats and managed to secure 365 (30 per cent) of 1,216 municipal assembly seats. Furthermore, MDM mayoral candidates took more than 40 per cent of the vote in 13 municipalities, including the most populous provinces and in the Frelimo heartlands of Maputo and Matola.
The second party, the former rebel movement, Renamo, has already announced that its leader, Afonso Dlakhama, will be running in the October elections, although his whereabouts are still unknown. He fled a government military offensive in central Mozambique last October. Since April 2013, Renamo has re-engaged in targeted armed violence against the Mozambican government in the centre of the country, arguing that the lack of political reforms have forced it to use violence. Renamo has dispersed its members, hiding armed men in the bush while its MPs continue to participate in the national assembly in Maputo.
After countless rounds of negotiations between Renamo and the Mozambican government, in late February the government agreed to change the composition of the electoral commission, increasing the number of Renamo members, and it allowed more observers at talks between the two sides. These concessions could open the way for the return of Dhlakama to peaceful politics.
Ending the insecurity in central Mozambique created by the stand-off between the government and Renamo would be a positive step. Renamo should also acknowledge that their opposition was mainly due to President Guebuza’s governing style. The respect with which Frelimo and President Guebuza have upheld the constitutional presidential term limits diminishes this part of their argument. Many Mozambicans remember the 1977-92 civil war and a return to conflict has few supporters. Renamo’s insistence on pressing ahead with violence may cause the party, if it has not already done so, to lose second place in the Mozambican party ranking. MDM has already capitalized on this in the municipal elections, which were boycotted by Renamo.
All this takes place against the backdrop of the country’s booming economy. Mozambique enjoys one of the fastest growing African economies following the discovery of large deposits of gas and coal. Harnessing these effectively requires massive infrastructure investment and will require significant capital borrowing. International markets are looking for a peaceful Mozambique, with an enabling business environment.
The key issue in these upcoming elections is how to successfully reduce poverty for Mozambicans and move Mozambique closer to becoming a middle income economy. Under President Guebuza, the popular sense of inequality has grown. The next president should not forget that Mozambique’s prime battle is the fight to end poverty for all citizens.
Elisabete Azevedo-Harman is a Research Fellow in the Africa Programme of Chatham House.