No consensus on electoral legislation

The Commission on Public Administration of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, has reached deadlock in its attempts to draft new electoral legislation.

Reporting to the Assembly plenary on Wednesday, the Commission’s chairman, Alfredo Gamito, admitted that serious divergences still exist within the Commission members of the ruling Frelimo Party, and the two opposition forces, the former rebel movement Renamo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM).

Thus it has proved quite impossible to find any middle ground between the three radically different proposals for the composition of a new National Elections Commission (CNE).

Frelimo wants the CNE to maintain the same structure as in the current law – which is 13 members, five of whom would come from the political parties represented in parliament in proportion to the number of seats they hold, and the other eight selected from a list of names submitted by civil society organisations.

But Renamo, flying in the face of all recommendations for a smaller, less politicised CNE, has called for a body of 21 members – five from Frelimo, five from Renamo, five from the MDM, three from the extra-parliamentary parties, and just three from civil society. The Renamo proposal is clearly designed to give the opposition a majority on the CNE.

The MDM’s proposal does at least have the virtue of calling for a small CNE, of just seven members. But four of these would be appointed by political parties (one by Frelimo, one by Renamo, one by the MDM and one by the extra-parliamentary parties) and the remaining three by civil society.

None of the three parties have heeded the calls from local and foreign election observation bodies who recommended that the political parties should be completely removed from the CNE.

The divergence is even more striking when it comes to the CNE’s executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE). Frelimo’s proposal is that STAE should be recruited like any other branch of the civil service with candidates competing for jobs, submitting their curriculum vitae, and being appointed on merit.

Renamo, however, wants complete politicisation of STAE, with its members simply appointed by political parties. Thus the professional STAE directors at national, provincial and lower levels, would be hamstrung by deputy directors appointed by Frelimo, Renamo and the MDM. Throughout the STAE structures there were would be large numbers of political appointees chosen, not on the basis of their competence, but of their party loyalties.

These disputes are longstanding – but now there are new areas on which no consensus has been possible. One of these concerns voting abroad – Renamo insists that Mozambicans living in the diaspora must vote on exactly the same day as voters inside the country.

Frelimo, however, proposes that voters abroad should vote the Sunday before the elections inside Mozambique. This is to encourage a higher turnout. Most Mozambicans living abroad are unable to travel to embassies and consulates to cast their votes on a normal working day – only on a Sunday would they have time to do so, Frelimo argues. The miserably small percentage of registered voters abroad who cast their votes in the 2009 general elections supports this argument.

Renamo also calls for copies of all the electoral registers (and there will be over 8,000 of these) to be distributed to all parties competing in the elections. Frelimo objects, on the grounds of data protection. For the registers contain the addresses of all voters, many of whom might object to every political party receiving this information.

The question of possible discrepancies between the number of names ticked off the registers at the polling stations and the number of ballot papers found in the ballot boxes also remains a bone of contention.

Such discrepancies can occur when tired polling station staff forget to tick off the name of a voter when they hand him his ballot paper. This results in a larger number of papers in the box than names ticked off.

The existing law says that, when this happens, it is the number of votes in the box that prevails. This clause has been present in every election law since the first multi-party elections in 1994, and for 12 years it was not controversial. Even in the long drawn-out negotiations over amended electoral legislation in 2006, Renamo did not object to this clause.

It was only on 20 December 2006, when the amended laws finally came to a vote in the Assembly plenary that one opposition deputy, Maximo Dias (the leader of a minor party allied to Renamo), objected to the clause and claimed it could camouflage fraud.

Immediately, something that had previously been consensual became a matter of bitter dispute.

Renamo’s current proposal is that, in the event of any discrepancy, the polling station staff must go through all the votes and check their serial numbers against the ballot paper stubs.

Frelimo takes the view that action is only necessary if the number of votes supposedly casts exceeds the number of registered voters at that station. In this case, the election will be annulled at that polling station and repeated a week later. Criminal proceedings will also be started against those responsible for the fraud.

Renamo is also trying to slip measures of press censorship into the electoral laws. It proposes to make it a criminal offence for any of the media, regardless of whether publicly or privately owned, to “ridicule” any competing political party or candidate. Such a measure would, for instance, outlaw the caricatures of President Armando Guebuza or of Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama that sometimes appear in the satirical pages of the independent weekly “Savana”.

Faced with the impossibility of reaching agreement within the Commission, Gamito suggested that the leaderships of the three parliamentary groups should meet, during this Assembly sitting, and try to hammer out compromises on all the outstanding issues.

This was precisely what was attempted the last time the laws were revised, in 2006. It did not work then, and there is no reason to suppose it will work now. Nonetheless, in the absence of any other suggestion, the Assembly accepted Gamito’s proposal.

Gamito also told the Assembly that his commission had been forced to interrupt its work because its budget ran out. When the 2011 Assembly budget was distributed among the commissions, the additional burden of the public consultations involved in amending the electoral legislation was not taken into account. When the Commission asked for more money, it did not receive a reply.

Renamo deputy Saimone Macuiana claimed that Frelimo “is not willing to amend the electoral laws”, and was “afraid of other political parties”.

He claimed that the problems could have been avoided if the Renamo proposal to set up a special ad-hoc commission on the electoral legislation had been accepted last year. But an extra commission would simply have increased the Assembly’s costs, and the political divergences would not have disappeared just because they were being discussed in a different forum

Post published in: Africa News

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