MAPUTO, April 28 – Mozambique has set October 28 as the date for national elections, which analysts say could mark the end of the former Renamo rebels as a viable opposition in this still-young democracy.
Renamo lost all of last year’s mayoral elections and now risks ceding its second-place status to the breakaway Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM), analysts say.
With ruling party Frelimo poised for a runaway victory, analysts say at least one opposition party must win significant support to prevent a return to the one-party dominance that sparked a 16-year civil war.
"If the MDM doesn’t manage to win significant representation in parliament, and if Renamo has results in 2009 similar to those it just had in the municipal elections … I think there’s a danger" of returning to a single-party system, said Miguel de Brito, of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA).
Renamo takes pride in having fought to bring multi-party democracy to Mozambique during the civil war against Frelimo — then a Marxist-Leninist party — following independence from Portugal in 1975.
But Renamo has struggled to overcome its image as a guerrilla army that fought a war of destabilisation with the help of white-ruled Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and apartheid South Africa.
After the 1992 peace deal, Renamo was never able to convert its rebellion into success at the polls.
Party leader Afonso Dhlakama has run three unsuccessful presidential campaigns, and Renamo has never won a majority in parliament.
In the last general elections in 2004, Renamo’s coalition took just 30 percent of the vote. Dhlakama lost to current President Armando Guebuza by a two-to-one margin.
Jose Jaime Macuane, a political analyst at Eduardo Mondlane University, argues Renamo never fully transformed itself from a rebel army to a political party.
"Renamo’s problem is structural," Macuane said.
"Renamo is a party that built itself around individuals, built itself around opposition to a regime, except that regime as such doesn’t exist anymore."
This year’s presidential race will feature a rematch between Guebuza and Dhlakama, both of whom have already received their parties’ nominations.
The race may also include Daviz Simango, the founder of the new MDM party.
Simango, the mayor of second city Beira, came to national attention last year after he broke away from Renamo and won the local poll.
The victory made Simango the only non-Frelimo mayor in Mozambique and gave him the momentum to form the MDM, taking several prominent Renamo members with him.
Analysts say the MDM’s arrival could reshape Mozambican politics, where Frelimo’s growing dominance has accompanied increasing inequality.
The economy has boomed since the civil war ended, averaging eight percent growth per year from 1996 to 2007, according to the World Bank.
Yet the growth is not reaching most Mozambicans: the country ranks fifth from the bottom on the United Nations Human Development Index, which ranks quality of life indicators.
"What you are seeing basically is that the bottom half at least, maybe even 60 percent, are actually getting poorer," said Joseph Hanlon, a Mozambique specialist at the Open University.
Macuane says the unequal growth fuels Mozambique’s increasingly one-sided politics.
"That generates disenchantment in the average voter, who isn’t going to vote," he said.
Turnout for the 2004 presidential race was just 36 percent, down from 70 percent in 1999 and 80 percent in 1994.
De Brito said these untapped voters hold the key to a truly competitive democracy for Mozambique.
"The big secret for any party, which none of them have unlocked yet, including Frelimo, is how to convince the other 50 percent that don’t vote to return to the ballot box," De Brito said.
"The party that manages to do that is going to win a lot."