, Maputo, Oct 13 – Campaigning for Mozambique’s presidential elections wrapped up with a rock-and-roll style rally to drum up enthusiasm for the ruling party’s candidate.
Addressing a crowd of around 5,000 supporters at an open field in Maputo, Frelimo’s Filipe Nyusi promised jobs and economic opportunity, and vowed to fight graft in the country his party has governed for nearly four decades.
Wednesday’s presidential, legislative and provincial election is being closely watched especially by foreign investors, as Mozambique stands on the cusp of reaping vast wealth from its nascent gas industry.
Focus will be on whether the peace deal signed between the government and the former rebel group Renamo, to end a two-year conflict, will hold after the election.
The ruling party’s Nyusi, from the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province near Tanzania, told the rally that his name, in the local Makonde language from his far north region, translates to mean bee.
“I am the bee that will make honey for all!” he pledged.
The 55-year-old candidate, a former defence minister, is little known to the public, and represents a change of guard in a party ruled up to now by former fighters who led Mozambique to independence from Portugal in 1975.
In a bid to appeal to the country’s burgeoning youthful population, his rally was held on a gigantic, professional sound stage with performances from some of the nation’s best-known pop and dance acts.
Frelimo political heavyweights also turned out to offer support, including outgoing President Armando Guebuza, who is completing his second and final five-year term.
Also in attendance was Graca Machel, widow of both South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Mozambique’s first post-independence leader Samora Machel.
In a frenetic speech, Nyusi fired off a list of campaign pledges to loud applause from supporters dressed mostly in his party’s red T-shirts.
He said he was aware that people were frustrated with the pace of change but added they “shouldn’t think that the president has bags of money in his office”.
He also pledged to improve the quality of life for Mozambicans, most of whom scrape by on barely a dollar a day.
Frelimo, which has governed Mozambique since independence from Portugal in 1975, is expected to win the election, but by a lower margin than the 75 percent it gained at the last election in 2009.
The opposition Movement Democratic Movement (MDM), a breakaway from Renamo, whose candidate Daviz Simango is running for president for the second time, made some surprising gains in last year’s municipal elections.
Simango closed out his campaign in his hometown of Beira, the country’s second-largest city where he is also the mayor.
– Poor are still poor –
Former rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama, a better known figure, has also been attracting huge crowds in his populist campaign. On Sunday he addressed a large crowd in the most populous province of Nampula in the north.
Dhlakama, who dubbed himself the “spokesman for the poor”, has cast himself as the candidate for those who feel they have lost out during Frelimo’s long reign.
But many disheartened voters are simply giving up on politics. Abstention rates have climbed over the past decade — with more than 40 percent of voters staying away from the polls in 2009.
“We don’t see the importance of the election because the government doesn’t help us. There has been no change since 1994,” said Matias Cossa, a taxi driver and former Frelimo supporter.
“The rich are still rich, the poor are still poor, so it won’t change anything if he wins,” said Cossa, who shunned Nyusi’s rally.
Cossa, like many voters, raised concerns Nyusi would not hold the reins of power, comparing him to a “pet dog” for the outgoing president Guebuza.
Guebuza, even after he leaves office, will still serve three more years as party president.
One of Frelimo’s slogans has been a “force for change,” but allegations of corruption in the government have dented the party’s image.
In his final rally, Nyusi admitted “there has been a lack of transparency, there has been abuse of power” — but vowed no one would be above the law under his watch.
Wednesday’s elections will be the southern African country’s fifth since a 1992 peace agreement halted a 16-year civil war and ushered in the first democratic elections in 1994.