President Filipe Nyusi and his Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) party have won a landslide victory in the gas-rich southern African nation in an election the opposition branded a “mega fraud”.
The stakes were high in presidential, parliamentary and provincial polls marred by violence and overshadowed by the prospect of tens of billions of dollars in gas investment pouring into a country with a per capita income of below $1,000 in nominal terms.
French oil group Total is heading a $25bn liquefied natural gas project agreed this year and ExxonMobil is expected to announce its intention to develop a similar-sized project in the next few months.
The thumping victory, in which Mr Nyusi won 73 per cent of the vote and the opposition Renamo party failed to win a single of the country’s 10 provinces, will test a peace treaty signed between the two former civil war foes as recently as August.
Going into the election, Renamo had expected to win at least two provinces after a constitutional change that devolved power by allowing provincial governors to be elected directly for the first time.
The electoral commission also declared that, in the 250-seat national assembly, Frelimo had won 184 seats against 60 for Renamo and just six for the country’s third force, the Democratic Movement of Mozambique. With more than a two-thirds majority, Frelimo has the power to change the constitution, which limits presidents to two terms in office.
Ossufo Momade, the leader of Renamo, last week called the election a “mega fraud” and urged his supporters not to accept the result.
His disavowal of the process echoes accusations of electoral fraud this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and elsewhere, but is unlikely to prevent President Nyusi from consolidating what had been a fragile grip on power.
The campaign was marred by several incidents of violence and claims by election monitors that Frelimo, which has ruled the country since independence in 1975, had abused its incumbent status.
An observer mission sent by the EU said the election had been held in “a climate of fear” in which the ruling party had used state resources to mobilise campaign funds, logistical support and advertising.
The US embassy also reported what it said were several irregularities, including suspicious vote counts.
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Analysts for Mozambique’s Centre for Public Integrity, a civic watchdog, estimated that hundreds of thousands of votes for Mr Nyusi were faked.
Frelimo has a long history of alleged vote-rigging but “this election was different” in the level of co-ordination, said Joe Hanlon, a veteran Mozambique watcher who compiled poll analysis for the watchdog.
Frelimo had kept a tight grip on the process through violence and intimidation and “it does put the peace accord at risk,” Mr Hanlon said.
Activists had raised the alarm before the polls about thousands of ‘ghost’ voters on the rolls in a Frelimo stronghold region in particular. On the eve of the poll, police were implicated in the shooting of a senior local observer in the southern Gaza province.
Mozambique has been seeking to repair its relations with the international community since 2016 when its government revealed that it had secretly borrowed $2bn for a tuna fishing fleet that was never used.
The IMF suspended lending after most of those funds, arranged by Credit Suisse and Russian bank VTB, vanished.
A former Credit Suisse banker has pleaded guilty in the US to handling over some $2m in bribes in relation to the loan.
Mozambique has arrested 20 officials in connection with the alleged fraud, including the son of former president Armando Guebuza.